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The Long Exile: A Tale of Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic

first published 2006 (Fourth Estate)

In 1953 the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit from their flourishing home on the Hudson Bay to the barren, High Arctic desert of Ellesmere Island, the most northerly landmass on the planet, a place where winter temperatures routinely drop to -50C and it is dark twenty four hours a day for four months of the year. Among this group was Josephie Flaherty, the half-Inuit son of filmmaker Robert Flaherty, director of Nanook of the North. In a narrative rich with human drama, Melanie McGrath follows three generations of the Flaherty family to bring this extraordinary tale of deception, survival and, after thirty years, redemption.

Excerpt

In the dark, Josephie felt completely bewildered. He could not see the end of his own outstretched hand. Walking out on the ice blind was terrifying At any moment, he expected to fall through some thin patch or opening lead. For mile after mile he had to trust the dogs, beasts, who, it seemed, were as disorientated and as demoralized as himself. It was as if he suddenly had no body, but existed only as a shadow, unable to get any purchase on the world around him, aware that at any time that same world could swallow him up. When it was clear the moon gave off a strong light, he felt his chances rising, an intimation, a possibility that he might get out of it all alive, but the cloud had only to come over and a baleful gloom would settle back in and despair would sneak into his heart. What had he brought himself and his family to? It was too dark to see his way to an answer.

As the days and weeks wore on, the cold deepened into a hard, inescapable crust which seemed to work its way into his vital organs. Sometimes Josephie would return from a trip struggling for the breath which had frozen in his lungs. The dark, the dogs and his own lack of experience seemed constantly to doom his efforts. As they edged further into the dark period, he grew more anxious. Without help he would not be able to keep his family fed through the winter. He needed a hunting partner, but there was no one he could turn to. Rynee had to remain at home to feed the children, clean skins and patch their clothes and it was as much as the other men could do to keep their own families alive. The police detachment appeared to have no interest in his plight. There was only one person he could ask: his daughter, Martha.

And so at the age of six, the granddaughter of Robert Flaherty and Maggie Nujarluktuk began her hunting career, in temperatures cold enough to freeze the breath, to curdle the blood and murder the bones…

Reviews

‘Her mastery of her subject is so precise and beguiling, so heartstoppingly eloquent and textured….One of the most seductive reads of the decade.’
Daily Telegraph

‘McGrath, wickedly talented, brings every bit of this [story] to life. We hear the gnash of the ice, feel the pangs of hunger and thirst…She writes as if she’d lived in the Arctic for years’
New York Times

‘A gripping read..the Inuit’s epic battle against racism and indifference is nearly cinematic.’
Entertainment Weekly

The Long Exile was inspiration for a feature-length documentary for The History Channel, directed by Zachary Kunuk, director of Atanarjuat