Set in the dramatic and alluring landscape of the north, Arctic Defenders tells the remarkable story that began in1968 with a radical Inuit movement that changed the political landscape forever. It lead to the largest land claim in western civilization, orchestrated by young visionary Inuit with a dream - the governance of their territory - the creation of Nunavut. The story reveals Canada’s misguided attempts at sovereignty in the north and finds hope and inspiration from determined people who changed the rules of the game.
In 1968, a sixteen year old John Walker, 35mm camera in hand, boards a ship in Montreal on its way to Resolute Bay, in the High Arctic. It has been his childhood dream to visit the north - his imagination inspired by films and “Eskimo” art. What he doesn’t realize is that the global radicalism of 1960’s was also the beginning of a re-imagining of the Arctic by a group of visionary “Eskimos”. They began their political movement by challenging the use of the word Eskimo. They were Inuit and they had a dream - the governance of their territory, the creation of Nunavut within Canada.
We join Oo Aqpik, a modern Inuk, and John Walker, a filmmaker, on a ship heading to Resolute Bay where Inuit were shipped by the Canadian government in the 1950’s to act as human flagpoles for Canadian sovereignty. We are introduced to some of the visionary “Defenders” of Inuit culture who opposed the Canadian government’s imperialist plans. The film documents the monumental achievements of determined people to have a say in their future. It is a story of a culture that defines a nation.
The world's polar regions are entering a new era of international exploration and exploitation due to climate change. Canada's claim to her sovereignty of the north has never been more important than today.
In 1999 one fifth of Canada's landmass, (2,093,190 sq. km) a territory larger than England, France, Germany and Spain combined was created under an historic comprehensive land claim agreement with the federal government that gave 33,000 Inuit special rights and benefits. The largest territorial re-visioning on earth was finally established when the Government of Canada signed the agreement giving Inuit rights and benefits to the land.
The creation of Nunavut meaning "Our Land" happened after thirty years of lobbying by visionary Inuit determined to redraw the political boundaries of Canada and negotiated provisions for them to be intimately involved in the governance of their territory. Canada had finally realized that without the Inuit claim to the land, its own sovereignty of the north would be questioned by an international community determined to gain access to the oil and mineral riches of the northern hemisphere.
Photographs © John Walker