Culture  Left in the cold

The lasting impact of the High Arctic relocation

“A ce jour je ne sais toujours pas comment nous avons survécut” – Martha

Marquise Lepage and Productions Virage’s Martha qui vient du froid gives a firsthand account of the High Arctic relocation of Inuit families in the 1950s. The film revolves around Martha and her family, their experience of the relocation, and its continuing effects on their lives. In the 1950s, the Canadian government brought families of Inuit peoples to the High Arctic with promises of plentiful game and better living conditions, as a means of establishing sovereignty over these islands – thus misleading them into accepting the “temporary” and “voluntary” relocation without being informed of the political stakes. The families were moved to locations supposedly chosen by “experts of the North.” Once in the High Arctic, however, these families were subjected to horrible living conditions, worsened by laws on the prohibition of hunting, and the government’s striking lack of understanding for the Inuit way of life.

Martha qui vient du froid follows Martha as she journeys back to the places of her youth, the sites of extreme hardship that shaped her childhood and adolescence. Using footage of Martha’s journey as well as black and white reenactments of her youth, the documentary achieves a personal feel and quickly brings a face and a name to a story too few Canadian citizens have heard. Archival footage and photographs are used to quickly establish a link between the past and the present that underlines the vast and lasting impact of the events discussed in the documentary. Throughout the film, scenes from Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) are spliced in alongside the words of Martha’s family and friends, using irony to relate the extent of the Government’s mistreatment of the Inuit.

While Martha qui vient du froid deals with suffering and injustice, it is at once a personable, enjoyable, and important film to watch. The documentary both sheds light on a legacy of subjugation and demonstrates the effects of this subjugation on a personal and familial level. It speaks powerfully to the general public who does not know nearly enough about the human rights infringements committed by and still happening in a country that celebrates its Great North, a land over which Canada claimed sovereignty from the sweat and blood of families like Martha’s.