Whit Fraser will be celebrating the launch of his new book, True North Rising, on Saturday afternoon in Yellowknife. (Submitted by John Stevens) A longtime Northerner will be in Yellowknife on Saturday to share stories from a new book that sheds light on his experiences in the North and some of the region’s critical political developments.
True North Rising is a memoir by Whit Fraser, former chairman of the Canadian Polar Commission, storyteller for Students on Ice, and once the executive director of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
Fraser was also a longtime CBC North reporter. The book reflects on some of his memories of working as a journalist in the North. ‘The North through a different lens’
The story opens with a scene that stands out to Fraser as an example of colonialism. In it, an Inuk hunter is on trial in 1969 for hunting a polar bear with her young.
Fraser remembers the hunter standing in front of judges and lawyers dressed in black robes, with flags and stacks of books around them. Meanwhile, the hunter needed translation services to understand what was going on.
"I think, more than anything over the years, that was the one thing that turned me and shaped me and made me … see the North through a different lense," said Fraser.
"Many years later, I thought about it as just colonial justice." Turmoil and development
As the North underwent drastic changes and development through the 1960s and 1970s, Fraser said the region became a "hotbed" in turmoil with Canada.
"The federal government was determined to develop the riches of the North in the interests of all Canadians, with barely a whisper about what the benefits would be for northern people," he said.
Then, Fraser covered the Berger Inquiry in the 1970s, which halted development of a proposed pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley after the inquiry heard from Indigenous groups about how it would impact them.
Fraser said he witnessed open racism.
"There was testimony at the Berger Inquiry where not only people were considered second-class citizens, they weren’t even considered citizens at all," he said.
"That [gave] me a sense of outrage … to say this is just not the way this country is, or what we want it to be, or it should be." Depth of leadership
But Fraser also remembers the "remarkable" Indigenous language broadcasters he worked with at the time, covering the inquiry.
With their deep knowledge of the land and their languages, they challenged scientists at the inquiry on facts, at times proving them wrong, Fraser said.
"They more than proved themselves, and they became dear, dear friends," he said. "They needed to be recognized and remembered."It was also important for him to document the contributions of other northern Indigenous leaders, he said, from settling land claims to constitutional development."Just to remind everybody of the depth of the leadership that was there, their ability to tackle unprecedented challenges," said Fraser."And the challenges are not gone — they’re just different challenges, including the terrible social challenges … but the strength was in the communities in the 1970s to deal with those issues, and the strength is still in those communities in 2018 and beyond."Fraser’s book launch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Yellowknife Public Library on Saturday. With files from Loren McGinnis
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