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
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.