Land claims film an eye-opener for teens

“I want them to be proud of our story and proud to be Inuit”



Staking the Claim takes on a difficult subject, the history of Inuit land claim agreements, for a tough audience: the ever-drifting minds of high school students.

So the documentary film begins with a sight that should be familiar to most students: the glowing digits of an alarm clock, inside a bedroom strewn with clothes. A young Inuit woman pulls herself from the throes of sleep, watching the hours shoot by as she packs her bags to leave Ottawa for Iqaluit.

The young woman is Stacy Aglok MacDonald, 23, one of four guides who take their audience on a tour across Canada’s North, in search of the movers and shakers of a political movement that brought about Inuit land claims that led to, among other things, the creation of Nunavut.

Before setting off, the guides talk about why learning about the history of land claims is important to them. Their answers may be surprisingly personal.

“I’m just trying to figure out who I am, on the inside, really,” says Pauloosie Akeeagok as the film begins.

The film, produced by Nunavut Sivuniksavut and EnTheos Films, is divided into three parts, each about 25 minutes long. Part one made its premier screening in Iqaluit last Friday evening to a crowd in the Astro theatre, held by Ajjiit, Nunavut’s film association.

To create the film, the four guides travel across Canada’s North. In Nunavut, they visit Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Arviat and Kugluktuk.

Outside Nunavut, they travel to Nain and Goose Bay in Labrador, Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, and Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories.

On their way, they interview well-known Inuit leaders such as Nunavut’s Tagak Curley, Paul Quassa and John Amagoalik, Nunavik’s Mary Simon, and Labrador’s Tony Anderson.

Part one swerves through modern history, taking a series of detours after the Second World War, during the construction of the Distant Early Warning system radar stations across northern Canada, and ending at the 1960s.

Interviews are punctuated by kitschy black-and-white documentary footage, including shots of seal hunting done in the 1970s, which until recently was rotting away in the IBC archives, in a film format no longer readable by the corporation.

Some of these asides are of historical interest, such as a CBC interview with Gordon Robertson, commissioner of the Northwest Territories from 1953-63.

Others offer comic relief, such as the stern commentator from the 1960s condemning long-haired hippies. But clips of the Beatles seem a little far away from future land claims negotiations in Canada’s North.

More relevant is Martin Luther King Jr.’s appearance, whose “I have a dream” speech hints not only at the political awakening of black Americans, but aboriginals across North America, including Inuit.

Part one only touches on the background of the pursuit of land claims, ending with Tagak Curley’s words, “Devolution was too slow, revolution too fast. Something had to happen.”

That leaves a lot of ground to cover in the next two segments.

Part two will deal with negotiations of land claims over the last 30 years, and part three documents the present struggle to implement these agreements. Those installments are expected to be completed in the next few months.

Perhaps the real value of part one isn’t the cursory history lesson, but the exploration of painful feelings of inadequacy shared by the film’s guides and the elders they consult.

During part one’s most poignant moment, MacDonald asks aloud whether she should be interviewing subjects, when she doesn’t speak Inuktitut and other guides do.

“I already had so many young people come up to me and say, I know exactly how you feel,” she said during an interview on Saturday, after the screening.

Afterwards, another guide, Pauloosie Akeeagok, who has pale skin, speaks in Inuktitut about his worries that other Inuit will think he’s a qallunaaq stealing their language.

If young viewers can relate to the insecurity of the guides, and many will, then maybe the enthusiasm for learning about the land claim agreements will rub off, too.

“I want them to be proud of our story, and proud to be Inuit,” MacDonald said on Saturday.

MacDonald and other guides say they knew little about Nunavut’s land claims settlement while attending high school. They hope that changes for students who watch their film in school.

“Our nieces and nephews are going to see this in a few years,” said another guide, Tommy Akulukjuk, 24. “This is not just Nunavut history. This is Canadian history at work.”

If the film comes up short on facts and figures, that’s because it’s only meant to be a starting point for classroom discussions and assignments, said the film’s producers, Marianne Demmer and Kath Clarida Fry.
The DVD kit will come with fact-sheets to be given to students. That curriculum is currently being developed by Cathy McGregor in the Government of Nunavut’s education department.

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