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The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic Hardcover – April 3, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this riveting tale of Canadian bureaucracy and cultural arrogance, British journalist McGrath (Motel Nirvana) tells how in 1953 a handful of Inuit families were coerced from Hudson Bay's eastern shore and relocated 1,500 miles north to bitterly rocky and icy Ellesmere Island—the world's ninth-largest island. Sold as a humane attempt to provide a livelihood for the Inuit when fox pelt prices plummeted, the scheme was, in fact, callously political. Canada wanted to plant the flag—and some people—on the uninhabited and largely impenetrable island, over which Greenland, Denmark and the United States had territorial aspirations, particularly as the Cold War intensified. A compact history of northern life adds context to the story of horrific exile, which McGrath humanizes by focusing on Josephie Flaherty, the mixed-race son of an Inuit mother and of American director Robert Flaherty, who created the cinematic sensation Nanook of the North in the 1920s. McGrath's account of inhumane deprivation is based on contemporary documents and astonishing interviews with survivors, who after decades of pleading to be repatriated to their homeland finally forced public hearings in 1993 that shocked Canadians and culminated in the 1999 creation of Nunavut, the world's only self-governing territory for indigenous people. (Apr. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* McGrath has accomplished significant and riveting work in her investigation into the Canadian relocation of several Inuit families to Ellesmere Island in the 1950s. By focusing primarily on one family, she humanizes what has been called one of the worst human rights violations in Canadian history. Through meticulous research and interviews, McGrath embraces actual events and the greater question of white reliance on misconceptions concerning indigenous peoples. She opens with the 1920s filming of Nanook of the North, then pursues connections the filmmaker had to one Inuit family. By contrasting how the Inuit are perceived by movie audiences versus the treatment they received from government employees, she sets the reader up for the devastating conclusions revealed in the survivors' 1993 testimony before the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Because the events and people McGrath portrays had a direct effect on the development of the Nunavut Territory, her book is an excellent example of living history. Highly readable and utterly fascinating, this startling examination of the meaning of the term civilized world is nonfiction literature at its best. Colleen Mondor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400040477
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400040476
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,475,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
While all the reviews I have seen praise Melanie McGrath's The Long Exile for being fascinating, well documented, and different, none of them looked at the second level. At bottom, this is the story of how the government of Canada manipulated people through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). While most of us in the west think of police as enforcing the law, the RCMP was used to implement social and political policy, deploy civil service directives, and herd people to where government departments thought they would more good for the political agenda. That this has never been the subject of investigation is a horror story in and of itself. The RCMP lied to the Inuit, they got them to give up their homes on false pretenses, treated them like dirt on their awful journey, did nothing to help them in the dire straits the RCMP placed them in, lied again about going home, trapped them into a hopeless, miserable life, and of course, denied all of it.

Yes, it's fascinating that the high arctic is actually a desert where the Inuit can't find enough snow to build a winter home. Yes, it's fascinating that this whole fifty year story has a common thread through Robert Flaherty and his Nanook of the North, Yes, it's astonishing that anyone can live in these conditions - and how they do it is both spellbinding and heartrending. But the political aspects are at least as horrifying, especially in seemingly peaceloving, friendly Canada.

This is an excellent book for more reasons than a snowy cover would indicate.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Reimer on September 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Long Exile could easily have leant itself to melodrama. It's a harsh story, well told, and definitely worth reading.

The arc of the Inuit history - their millennium-long adaptation to their environment, the cultural ripples caused by the earliest European arrivals, the eventual idealized view of their hard but "simple" and "happy" existence romanticized accidentally by Robert Flaherty in "Nanook of the North", and the Hudson Bay Company's and Canadian government's determination (after two hundred years of trying to make the Inuit dependent upon the HBC) to enforce an about-face and compel the Inuit to live solely off the land - all of that encompasses countless individual tragedies that could have been played out at full volume. But Melanie McGrath chooses a different approach.

Writing with calm and control, she lays out the story of the creator of Nanook. Without passing judgment she describes the child and Inuit mistress he left behind at the end of filming, and how different their daily lives became than the lifestyle memorialized in the film, even as the rest of the world began to take "Nanook" as the absolute Inuit reality. With occasional understated phrases of incredulity, McGrath describes Flaherty's son growing up in an environment where whites representing competing agendas (the fur trade, religion, the government, and the educational and medical establishments) all competed to decide what was best for Inuit peoples, without ever asking the Inuit themselves. And when it would have been possible for her to raise her narrative tone to an indignant screed as she describes the relocation of Inuit to the Arctic Dessert (as far from their native landscape as New York is from Cuba), if anything McGrath becomes even more understated.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lauren B. Davis on May 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Beautifully written, poignant and engaging, McGrath's book is at once horrifying and hopeful. Her descriptions of the Inuit relationship to place and their fierce will to survive, first, the harsh landscape they so love and, second, the idiocy, cruelty, racism, arrogance and "good intentions" of those whites they find themselves in contact with, are inspiring. (Although, at least in this reader, I was also both ashamed as a Canadian, and furious at the treatment these people received.)

This is the story of Robert Flaherty's famous film "Nanook of the North," and the child, Joseph, he fathered (but never recognized) while living among the Inuit. Thirty years after the film was released to mammoth acclaim, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit, Joseph Flaherty and his family among them, from the east coast of Hudson Bay to a region of the high arctic 1,200 miles farther north.

Whereas the area they came from was rich in caribou, arctic foxes, whales,seals, pink saxifrage and heather, their destination was Ellesmere Island, an arid, desolate landscape of shale and ice virtually devoid of life, and certainly not the promised land of abundant game and spring flowers they had been promised. 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.

The reasons for the relocation were, in large part, political: Canada hoped the presence of Inuit on Ellesmere Island would discourage Greenland, Denmark or the United States from staking a claim to the island.
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