Arctic Defenders details movement that led to creation of Nunavut
John Walker, age 16, in the Arctic in 1968. His documentary Arctic Defenders came from his long-time relationship with the North and its people. It has its world premiere Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at Park Lane cinemas.
Halifax documentary filmmaker John Walker has a history with Canada’s Arctic that goes back a half century.
But even he learned new things when making Arctic Defenders, which has its world premiere Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at Park Lane Cinemas as part of the Atlantic Film Festival.
“When a lot of Canadians think about the North, they think about polar bears, icebergs, oil and gas exploration. Rarely do we think about the people, the Inuit,” says Walker, sitting in the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, where the festival is headquartered. “I want people to see the North through Inuit eyes, what role they have played and are playing. It’s an epic story.”
Walker’s 90-minute film, shot in Greenland, Nunavut and Ottawa, is full of gorgeous northern landscapes, historical photos, heartbreaking stories told with brutal honesty, and narratives of hope and endurance.
It tells the tale of an Inuit movement that negotiated one of the largest land claims in the history of Western civilization — 1.9 million square kilometres, bigger than Spain, France, Germany and Britain combined — leading to the creation of Nunavut in 1999.
The movement, begun in 1968, was led by visionary Inuit who had a dream and pulled it off, says Walker, who includes interviews with leaders like Tagak Curley and John Amagoalik.
That same year, a then 16-year-old Walker made his first trip north, a pilgrimage by boat from his native Montreal through the Northwest Passage to Resolute Bay in the high Arctic, searching for a people he knew as Eskimos. He recalls being an eight-year-old schoolboy shown black and white films about a place populated by dogs and seals and people who created beautiful carvings.
“It was the art and culture that was my inspiration as an eight-year-old, that led me to travel to the Arctic when I was 16, and continues to inspire me to this day,” he said.
Those early movies, photos of Walker with the soapstone sculpture that had a place of honour in the family home when he was a boy, and pictures he took during his early trip are included in the film, which he wrote, directed and narrates.
He also attempts to reconnect with the people in his photos from 45 years ago when he revisits Resolute Bay.
Walker has returned to the north many times since his first trip, including a visit to make Passage, a docudrama that tells the story of the search for the Northwest Passage and the loss of John Franklin.
That movie screened at the 2008 Atlantic Film Festival, where it won awards for best director and best cinematography. Walker was also nominated for a Gemini for best writing in a documentary.
The filmmaker, whose movies include Men of the Deeps, about the famed Cape Breton choir, and A Drummer’s Dream, met Curley working on Passage.
From the Order of Canada member, Walker learned about the forcible relocation of Inuit from Northern Quebec to the high Arctic in the 1950s, when they were left on the shores of Hudson Bay with no supplies or shelter.
It was part of a misguided attempt by Canadian politicians to establish sovereignty in the North, Walker says.
The film is framed within the current media attention to Arctic sovereignty, Walker says, noting it includes footage of the Rangers, an elite Inuit group who are central to Canada’s sovereignty strategy.
Arctic Defenders investigates the threats to Canada’s sovereignty, what role the Inuit play in these issues and the Inuit point of view.
The film, with a score by Halifax composer Sandy Moore, next heads to the Vancouver International Film Festival and in November to festivals in Montreal and Toronto.
There are versions in English, French and Inuktitut that will be broadcast on TV and the Internet in 2014, after the festival circuit.
The territory of Nunavut (which means "our land") stretches some 1.9 million square kilometres and is nearly one-fifth the size of Canada.
The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is the largest Aboriginal land claim settlement in Canadian history. When the Agreement was signed, legislation was also passed leading to the creation of a new territory called Nunavut on April 1, 1999. The new territo ry will have a public government serving both Inuit and non-Inuit.
Though the creation of the territory of Nunavut is a new chapter in Canada's confederation, the story of Nunavut and the Inuit who make their lives there is an ancient one, going back over thousands of years.
The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement gives title to Inuit-owned lands measuring about 350,000 square kilometres (of the total area of Nunavut of 1.9 million square kilometres), of which about 35,000 square kilometres include mineral rights.
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) was set up as a private corporation in 1993 to ensure that promises made in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement are carried out. The operations of NTI are managed through offices in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Ottawa.
Features of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement:
Some to the more outstanding of its 41 articles include the following:
Title to approximately 350,000 square kilometres of land, of which about 35,000 square kilometres include mineral rights,
Equal representation of Inuit with government on a new set of wildlife management, resource management and environmental boards,
The right to harvest wildlife on lands and waters throughout the Nunavut settlement area,
Capital transfer payments of $1.148 billion, payable to the Inuit over 14 years, A $13 million Training Trust Fund,
A share of federal government royalties for Nunavut Inuit from oil, gas and mineral development on Crown lands,
Where Inuit own surface title to the land, the right to negotiate with industry for economic and social benefits with non-renewable resource development,
The right of first refusal on sport and commercial development of renewable resources in the Nunavut Settlement Area,
The creation of three federally funded national parks,
The inclusion of a political accord that provides for the establishment of the new Territory of Nunavut and through this a form of self-government for the Nunavut Inuit.
Flow of Capital
$1.2 billion dollars in compensation money will pass from the federal government to the people of Nunavut over fourteen years, ending in 2007. This money flows to the Nunavut Trust, which is required to protect and enhance this capital. The Trust passes it on to Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), which distributes a portion to each of the three Regional Inuit Associations:
Kitikmeot Inuit Association Kivalliq (Keewatin) Inuit Association Baffin Regional Inuit Association