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Ausuittuq (Grise Fiord)—A Claim to the High Arctic

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

The Northwest Passage Day 11

“Adventure happens, but not punctually!”  T.S. Elliot

A day later than planned, we made it to Grise Fiord. The funeral that was supposed to happen yesterday did not because the plane transporting the body couldn’t make it until today. The town still welcomed us, but we would not have the celebratory singing and dancing. Instead we would get a walking tour of the town, then assemble in the community center for a short welcome. Our on-board musicians Marshall Dane and David Newland would provide entertainment.

Grise Fiord has a sad history. This is the official statement:

“In the early 1950’s, Inuit families from northern Quebec and north Baffin Island were brought here to reinforce Canada’s claim on the High Arctic. The nearby “old village” is still used today for camping and hunting. Some of the original families stayed, some left and others decided to come. The Ausuittumiut (people of Grise Fiod) who remain are proud Inuit who revel in the quiet traditional lifestyle where hearing your own footsteps is as familiar as the sounds of nature.“

Our guide, Larry, is one of two survivors from the 1950’s relocation. He told us a more detailed version. About eight Inuit families were forced to relocate and were dropped off in a fairly inhospitable area (the “old village”) where there was no way to escape. Living conditions were difficult for the Inuit, who had been taken away from their communities and support systems.This forced migration allowed Canada to claim to the high arctic. It turns out that you need ordinary people, not military installations, to assert this authority. So the Canadian goverment used the Inuit. Larry talked to us for quite some time. It was heart wrenching to hear about the hardships of his family, both the physical and mental strain. It took Larry (and others) decades to be at peace with the past. He concluded his story by telling us he proudly flies the Canadian flag at his home.

The Canadian government erected a monument in Grise Fiord to honor those who were relocated. After standing by this monument when Larry told his story, we walked to the commuity center. David gave a short talk to pay our respects to the deceased community member. Marshall led us in singing Amazing Grace. David sang a song that he dedicated to Grise Fiord and is on his most recent CD Northbound

Grise Fiord, like other high arctic hamlets, get supplied only twice a year. However this year, Resolute Bay ended up using the barge that was supposed to supply Grise Fiord, so the stocks were down in the store. At least one-third of the shelves were empty when I went in. The next supply ship was supposed to arrive within the month. I hope it did. Once the ice sets in, transportation is just about impossible.

MONUMENT David Newland There is a monument Made of cold hard stone A woman and a child Together, alone Out to sea they stare Where a ship once went And left them there Like a monument In a settlement On a rocky ledge Where the wind is cruel On an island’s edge Does anybody care? What was done, what it meant They took the people there To make a settlement Is it sentiment That we shed these tears For these hard lives lived These long lost years The flag still flying high Flapping like a tent What we occupy Is it sentiment? This is your testament This place you’ve known Where you lived your life Where flesh meets stone Where you stood, you stand In this long moment You are of the land It is your testament It is your testament

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