Grise Fiord memoirist recognized with Governor General literary nomination

Larry Audlaluk’s retelling of his family’s forced relocation to Grise Fiord shortlisted in non-fiction category

Larry Audlaluk, 71, of Grise Fiord, Nunavut, was relocated with his family to the settlement when he was only two years old. (Photo courtesy of Matisse Harvey / Radio-Canada|CBC)

By Madalyn Howitt

Most writers, even the most seasoned, will never be considered for a Governor General’s Literary Award.

For a first-time author, it’s even more rare.

That’s why Larry Audlaluk, nominated for his memoir What I Remember, What I Know: The Life of a High Arctic Exile, is still letting the feeling sink in.

Speaking from his home from snowy Grise Fiord, he said the nomination was exciting, but also a learning curve.

“I didn’t realize when I was putting my life on paper [it] would involve so many other people,” he laughed.

Audlaluk, 71, has been named a finalist in the awards’ non-fiction category for his telling his family’s forced relocation from from Inukjuak, Nunavik, to Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic.

There, the family settled in what became Grise Fiord, which, with a population today under 160 residents, remains the northernmost civilian community in North America.

In the book, Audlaluk reflects on how the federal government persuaded his family to relocate to the High Arctic in 1953 under the false pretense that they would only have to stay for two years.

“I’d been listening to my relocation story in the government records… I always heard the story [that] we were a rehabilitation program, and we were going to a place where we would learn an alternative way of life,” Audlaluk recalled.

“When I asked my parents about the relocation, their story was never the same. It was almost completely opposite.”

When they arrived, they found an inhospitable land with little access to the food and resources they were used to back in Nunavik.

As a young boy Audlaluk was a “bookworm,” he said, even though he only began attending school when he was 12 years old. He says he especially loved reading history, real-life experiences from all over the world.

It was this love of learning that helped Audlaluk realize how little had been written about forced relocations to Grise Fiord.

“The Inuit perspective was almost virtually ignored, so I decided, I think it’s time for me to put down on [paper] what we know,” he said.

“I’m very happy and proud to be a Canadian. I’ve travelled to other countries … and I have seen how privileged we are living in Canada, but I always talk about our [relocation], because I know what the government did was not all open … Why could they not be honest with us?”

Now a prominent advocate for High Arctic communities, Audlaluk hopes sharing the story of how Grise Fiord not only came to be, but how it has survived, will help draw attention to the issues the community and others like it still face.

“Come see what it’s like to live up here,” he said.

“[It’s] beautiful, serene, quiet … but still no infrastructure. We don’t have any swimming pools, any movie theatres … museums, all the proper facilities Canadians take for granted. We’re not equal yet.”

Audlaluk says his memoir will soon be translated into Inuktitut. As well, he’s already started putting pen to paper on more stories about the North.

As for the recognition his memoir is receiving, Audlaluk said his friends and family in Grise Fiord are happy their history is being told, despite the painful feelings it brings back.

“It made us talk about that history ourselves again,” he said.

“Emotions still get pretty affected for all of us, because the stories [haven’t] come and gone, they’re ongoing.”

And his parents too, he said, would be proud.

The winners of the Governor General’s Literary Awards will be announced on Nov. 17. Winners in each of the seven categories will receive a prize of $25,000.

Other nominees alongside Audlaluk in the non-fiction category include alfabet/alphabet: a memoir of a first language by Sadiqa de Meijer; Care of: Letters, Connections, and Cures by Ivan Coyote; Revery: A Year of Bees by Jenna Butler; and The Day the World Stops Shopping by J.B. MacKinnon.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Elizabeth Townsend McGee on

    I believe that Larry Audluluk’s story needs to be told. It would demonstrate to this author and the Inuit people that we as Canadians care about their story.
    What happened to these Inuit children was horrendous and inexcusable. The children were basically stolen from their families under the pretence that they would be educated, while reality has shown that a large majority of them were never again to see their home or family.
    The atrocities suffered by the parents who lost their children were unbearable, as were the lies told by the church leaders involved, and the politicians setting the system up initially.
    A side of the story not told involves the unknown who possibly could have made a difference at the time. The past can not now be erased, but we Canadians who were kept in the dark in the past, want to be informed of decisions made by the government against any of it’s people. We will make a difference this time.
    Canada is still a young country, with mistakes recorded in our past, however, we can do better. This starts with information, the truth, and no censorship of happenings. The majority of Canadians came to this country as immigrants, each with a story to tell. I believe that the heart of any story must be the ‘truth’.

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    • Posted by Kanuwhipit on

      Elizabeth, Larry is part of the High Arctic Exiles, maybe you haven’t heard of them. They were whole families not just children were located. They were relocated all in the sake of sovereignty, people from Northern Quebec and Pond Inlet moved to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay so that there would be people there so Canada can claim sovereignty in 1950-1953.

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    • Posted by Kenn Harper on

      Elizabeth, perhaps you should have read the article before you posted a comment. Larry’s memoir is not about residential schools where children were taken away from their families. It is about relocation of families (which included children) from one part of the north to another. Larry was moved (relocated) with his family, not taken away from his family. Read the article.

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    • Posted by QABLUNARAQ, ( Cambridge Bay ) on

      I liked the part of your comment where you say that every ones statement should be heard !
      I am Inuk & European and both of my cultures suffered badly over the years.
      I know of people who liked residential school, because as they said they were clean, no hunger, and no fear of incest, and for others it was different.
      I have heard about infanticide and tough survival for Inuit in the old days, and also wars and
      revolutions in Europe.
      Well said Elizabeth, free opinions for all Canadians.

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  2. Posted by Adamie Kalingo on

    Larry Audlaluk and I met in Ottawa while we attended the same college. It was amazing to converse in Inuktitut with him as he sounded very much like the Inuit of Inukjuak.
    As might be expected, there were other relocatees, including our own people who were taken to what is now Coral Harbour. They were taken there through the steamship Naskopi. We have relatives there, too.
    And then there are those from Kuujjuaq who were also taken from home to live around Churchill. Very little is known about their story but it’s no different.
    There is an awful lot of emotion tied to this obviously.
    One of my hopes is that we’ll be able to see youth and adults alike to get to Grise Fiord as a way of reconnecting with the Inuit whose roots started from Nunavik. It sure would beat some of today’s trips that are oriented to getting to cities.

  3. Posted by Daniel Niviaxie on

    My father and his family were orinally from Inukjuak too.
    They were dropped off in King George Island ,while the ship continued to Grisel Fiord.
    They weren’t allowed to move to another location for 4 years. They used to shopping to Belcher Island known as Sanikiluaq now. ᒪᕐᕉᓚᕿᐊᐱᒻᒥᐅᕕᓃᑦ ᐊᓯᖏᑦ ᖃᐅᓯᐅᑐᒧᑦᑕᐅᑎᓪᓗᒋᑦ.
    ᐊᕐᕌᕈᓐᓂᑦ ᓯᑕᒪᓐᓂᑦ ᓅᖃᔭᐅᓚᐅᓐᓂᖏᑦᑐᑦ ᑕᐃᑲᓂ.
    ᐊᑖᑕᓯᐊᒐ ᑰᓂᓘᓯ ᓂᕕᐊᕐᓯᑯᑦ ᐊᑖᑕᒪ ᐊᑖᑕᑯᖕᖏᑦ.
    They never got compensated like Grise Fiord people did.
    So my father Davidee Niviaxie was part of them who got relocated from Inukjuak too. There were other families too from different family.
    My father now lives in Umiujaq now.

    • Posted by Daniel Niviaxie on

      ᐃᓇᓕᑯᒥᐅᕕᑦ Known as King George Island.
      He says one of his sister is buried in Grise Fiord ( Mary )
      My father is also victim of dog slaughter too.

  4. Posted by Daniel Niviaxie on

    Update after getting more information from my father, he says they were located to King George Island. They were located a year later from relocation to Grise Fiord, with 2 or 3 other families. ᐃᓐᓇᓕᒃᑯᓄᑦ , ᒪᕐᕈᓚᑭᐊᐱᒻᒥᐅᕕᓃᑦ,
    He lost 7 dogs in Kuujjuaraapik. They moved back to Inukjuak from King George Island after for 4 years and lived in Point Pammialluk, and later moved to Long Island where I was born on that island for couple of months. From there I grew up in Kuujjuaraapik. That’s when and where I was born. So he lost 7 dogs and my first dog was one of them

  5. Posted by Daniel Niviaxie on

    Update after getting more information from my father, he says they were located to King George Island. They were located a year later from relocation to Grise Fiord, with 2 or 3 other families. ᐃᓐᓇᓕᒃᑯᓄᑦ , ᒪᕐᕈᓚᑭᐊᐱᒻᒥᐅᕕᓃᑦ,
    He lost 7 dogs in Kuujjuaraapik. They moved back to Inukjuak from King George Island after for 4 years and lived in Point Pammialluk, and later moved to Long Island where I was born on that island for couple of months. From there I grew up in Kuujjuaraapik. That’s when and where I was born. So he lost 7 dogs and my first dog was one of them
    ᖃᖕᖑᑎᖕᐃ ᓛᔨ

    • Posted by Daniel Niviaxie on

      I’ve met you in Kuujjuaraapik during Summer Arctic Summer Festival

  6. Posted by Daniel Niviaxie on

    My father says the most memorable thing that he doesn’t forget that they left behind were kayak, dogs and essentials for living were left behind in Inukjuak before being relocated to King George Island.

  7. Posted by Paddy Doyle on

    Congratulations on your writing.
    It’s been a long time Larry!
    And now we are in our seventies.
    Keep that pen moving!

  8. Posted by Blank on

    Interesting piece on the history of the relocation. With harsh conditions forced on a people lives are inextricably changed for the worst. The survivors are a tough and resilient, respectable lot.
    The titles nominated for the Governor General’s award in the non fiction category are interesting as well, all are winners in my book. The Government department behind the move, is thriving in Gateneau to this day and this on the backs of the indigenous. It should be dismantled piece by piece, Indigenous Services Canada and its sister department Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. MPs, parliament have the power to extinguish that buracracy.

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