A 1966 journey across northern Canada, much of it above the Arctic Circle.
Here’s vintage Mowat (Aftermath, 1996, etc.), highly evocative and in full piss-and-vinegar mode, from the land he loves best. The Canadian government, in 1966, is in the midst of a “clearance scheme” to move Inuit populations to locations more convenient for controlling them. This, justly, raises Mowat’s ire, especially as it’s accompanied by moves to exploit any resources found in the area. The propaganda message sent out by the Canadian government was that the far north was a barren wasteland with few inhabitants, and it’s Mowat’s intent to disabuse Canadians of such malarkey and let the people who live in the area, both the Inuit and those of European origin, speak for themselves. Long passages are in the words of the inhabitants, from administrators who realize that, in a better world, the Inuits’ “real jobs would be doing what they’ve always done, and really like doing” to an Inuit explaining how his people “mostly think and talk about the past. Never talking about the future more than a day or two away. . . . Life for them is right now; but looking back too.” The notion is particularly poignant as the Inuits’ cultural history is falling apart all around them as a result of the relocation program. Mowat deploys a two-pronged attack. Fully appreciating that some Canadians may not give a hoot about the Inuit, he sharply describes the vibrant, beautiful, living world of the Arctic north and its fabulous (albeit overhunted) wildlife. But never far away are instances of segregation, disease, missionary interference, wrongheaded—culturally genocidal—governmental actions. Mowat isn’t one to let them pass unmentioned.
A fine slice out of Mowat time, along with the sound of voices so remote that they take your breath away and rouse your instinct to wonder—just as Mowat wished.