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“Martha of the North” and the Meaning of North for Canada

The North signifies the Canadian strength and magnitude. Moreover, the significance of the North for the national identity is represented by the words of the country’s anthem “the true north strong and free.” Almost half of the Canadian territory is determined as north including Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon, and northern Labrador and Quebec (Johnson 26). Reference to the artworks is an adequate way to understand the importance of north for Canada because the pieces of art provide not only artistic perception of reality, but also a space for various voices that address the problems that should be discussed openly and resolved by everyone who is concerned (Ives, Leman, Levy-Powell, and Thomson 3). An example of such an influential work of art is “Martha of the North” (2009), a documentary film directed by Marquise Lepage, who raises the issues of the national and ethnic identity, the value of the North for Canada, and the rights of indigenous people.

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The film “Martha of the North” tells the story of a woman whose name is Martha Flaherty and who, along with her family, was relocated from Inukjuak to Ellesmere, the farthest island in the north of the country, by the government and its insurances about a better life. The government wanted to secure its presence in the Arctic while had not being concerned about the people and their lives. Martha’s family went through numerous obstacles including the lack of game and extreme and prolonged winters. Through Martha’s story, Marquise Lepage opens the discourse of the meaning of the north, the legitimacy of such a relocation, and the violation of Inuit’s right in northern territories. For example, Martha, her siblings, and other children from the community did not the opportunity to go to school because there was no access to education facilities and, moreover, they had to help their families to survive. In the film, Martha says that her mother was always anxious when Martha, being a seven years old girl, and her father was going hunting.

According to Durrant, the northern territories are important for Canadian sovereignty and identity. The country’s 1950s relocation policy was not fair and transformed Inuit’s traditional way of life. “Decisions were taken without any consideration of Inuit traditions, and institutions reflecting European values were imposed” (Durrant 44). The situation has changed with the development and execution of several laws. During the long process of struggle, the indigenous people have been claiming for the recognition of their rights which have been granted by the Supreme Court of Canada through “the doctrine of aboriginal title, based on historic use and occupancy, and not dependent on any grant from or treaty with the Crown” (Johnson 27). Moreover, the aborigines have got control over their lands with the implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975) and the Northeastern Quebec Agreement (1978) (Angell; Dana; Johnson 28). Nowadays when the Inuit population is more secure and has rights and power to stand for their integrity, the understanding of the north for Canada is located in the field of diversity and preservation of indigenous people’s culture and tradition which is considered as an essential part of the country.

Marquise Lepage’s film “Martha of the North” demonstrates the substantial power of the work of art on the open dialogue about important issues. It commemorates the strength of the Inuit community during the harsh relocating period and the settling down in the north of the country. The film illustrates the significance of North for Canada and the change of the notion of its importance during the times.


Angell, Angela C., and John R. Parkins. “Resource development and aboriginal culture in the Canadian north.” Polar Record 47.01 (2011): 67-79. Print.

Dana, Leo Paul. “Nunavik, Arctic Quebec: where cooperatives supplement entrepreneurship.” Global Business and Economics Review 12.1-2 (2010): 42-71. Print.

Durrant, Chris. “None of That Paper Stuff Works: A Critique of the Legal System’s Efforts to End Domestic Assault in Nunavut.” Appeal: Rev. Current L. & L. Reform 19 (2014): 43-62. Print.

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Johnson, Rebecca. “Notes on Using Film to Engage with Philosophy of Law in the Arctic.” Philosophy of Law in the Arctic: 123. Web.

Ives, Nicole, et al. “Exploring the intersection of culture and education in Nunavik.” Journal of Comparative Social Work 7.1 (2015). Web.

Martha of the North. Ex. Prod. Monique Simand. Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada: National Film Board of Canada. 2009. DVD.

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