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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic

The Long Exile - Melanie McGrath Beautifully written, poignant and engaging, McGrath's book is at once horrifying and hopeful. Her descriptions of the Inuit relationship to place and their fierce will to survive, first, the harsh landscape they so love and, second, the idiocy, cruelty, racism, arrogance and "good intentions" of those whites they find themselves in contact with, are inspiring. (Although, at least in this reader, I was also both ashamed as a Canadian, and furious at the treatment these people received.)This is the story of Robert Flaherty's famous film "Nanook of the North," and the child, Joseph, he fathered (but never recognized) while living among the Inuit. Thirty years after the film was released to mammoth acclaim, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit, Joseph Flaherty and his family among them, from the east coast of Hudson Bay to a region of the high arctic 1,200 miles farther north.Whereas the area they came from was rich in caribou, arctic foxes, whales,seals, pink saxifrage and heather, their destination was Ellesmere Island, an arid, desolate landscape of shale and ice virtually devoid of life, and certainly not the promised land of abundant game and spring flowers they had been promised. The most northerly landmass on the planet, Ellesmere is blanketed in darkness for four months of the year. There the exiles were left to live on their own with little government support and few provisions. The reasons for the relocation were, in large part, political: Canada hoped the presence of Inuit on Ellesmere Island would discourage Greenland, Denmark or the United States from staking a claim to the island. It was also, though, intended to relieve pressure on the Hudson Bay Inuit population who, since their traditional way of life had been largely destroyed, were more and more dependent on the white individuals and institutions established there. The absurdly paternal whites believed it would be so much better for the Inuit if they returned to their traditional ways, without any thought at all for the survival-imperative generational knowledge of the land the Inuit would lose by relocation. The results were predictable, although apparently no one did.Forty years after the first families left Ungava for Ellesmere, the Canadian government held hearings to investigate the relocation program. At its conclusion, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called the relocation “one of the worst human rights violations in the history of Canada.” The country was shocked by the abuse and arrogance of its leaders, who eventually made financial reparations of 10 million Canadian dollars to the survivors and their families. But the government has yet to apologize.A highly recommended book.