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In 1922 an Irish-American adventurer named Robert Flaherty made a film about Inuit life in the Arctic. Nanook of the North featured a mythical Eskimo hunter who lived in an igloo with his family in a frozen Eden. Nanook’s story captured the world’s imagination.
Thirty years later, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit from the east coast of Hudson Bay to a region of the high artic that was 1,200 miles farther north. Hailing from a land rich in caribou and arctic foxes, whales and seals, pink saxifrage and heather, the Inuit’s destination was Ellesmere Island, an arid and desolate landscape of shale and ice virtually devoid of life. The most northerly landmass on the planet, Ellesmere is blanketed in darkness for four months of the year. There the exiles were left to live on their own with little government support and few provisions.
Among this group was Josephie Flaherty, the unrecognized, half-Inuit son of Robert Flaherty, who never met his father. In a narrative rich with human drama and heartbreak, Melanie McGrath uses the story of three generations of the Flaherty family—the filmmaker; his illegitimate son, Josephie; and Josephie’s daughters, Mary and Martha—to bring this extraordinary tale of mistreatment and deprivation to life.