Arctic Defenders is an eye-opening film that looks at hardships that the Inuit people endured as a result of the Canadian government’s quest to claim the Arctic. Inuit men and women were uprooted from their homes in the 1950’s and abruptly transplanted, against their will, to the Arctic to act as human flagpoles for Canadian sovereignty. Unprepared for the hardships that laid ahead, the First Nations people faced bitter winters and various cruel measures to ensure that they would never leave. Using the Inuit people as literal pawns in their political version of Risk, the government employed numerous, and despicable, tactics in order to achieve their goal.
The stories of the hardships the survivors incurred, and the political Inuit movement that arose as a result, is captured expertly by documentary filmmaker John Walker. Interested in “Eskimo” culture from a young age, Walker travelled to Resolute Bay in the High Arctic during 1968 in hopes of seeing the happy natives displayed in educational videos. What he discovered ultimately changed his outlook on both the Inuit people and the nature of Canadian politics. Years later, Walker would return to Resolute Bay to allow the people to tell their own story. Through Arctic Defenders, Walker paints a picture of repeated injustices, including attempted assimilation, and the lengthy fight that the First Nations people endured to save the most important thing…their culture.
Listening to Inuit activists, such as John Amagoalik and Tagak Curley, discuss the importance of maintaining an identity it is hard not to feel angry. One cannot help but question how a government could fail its own people so badly? While the official creation of Nunavut, the northernmost territory of Canada, was seen as a positive achievement for Inuit people after years of struggle, the film shows that there is still a long way to go to reverse generational ramifications of the past. Although the film looks at a portion of history that Canadians know little about, Arctic Defenders never feels like it is preaching to the audience. One of the film’s greatest strengths is that it educates just as much as it incites a call to action. Walker provides a good sense of the humans caught in the middle of all of the political posturing. He shows that human life, and the culture which comes out of it, is far more important than grand scale land disputes. Walker’s film is a scathing look at a section of Canadian history that cannot easily be swept under the rug. Arctic Defenders is a wake-up call not only to a shameful time in Canadian history, but also an honest look at the people whose lives were impacted as a result.