Sheila Watt-Cloutier is one of the most widely respected political figures to emerge from Canada's Arctic, and this potential was identified early on. When she was just 10 years old, she and her friend Lizzie were selected as promising future Inuit leaders and sent to live with a white family in the tiny coastal community of Blanche, N.S. Having grown up in Nunavik, Que., on dog sleds and in canoes, the young Watt-Cloutier loved new experiences and approached the long voyage south in the spirit of adventure. The girls were in for what Watt-Cloutier now describes as a "brutal shock."
A conversation on the frozen sea of Canada's North is so seared into the memory of filmmaker Laura Rietveld that five years later, she still gets entranced and chilled recalling what she heard.
The Montreal director was in the middle of a dog-sledding trip with musher Harry Okpik. They had paused to have tea and lunch -- in fact Laura's aunt, who was teaching in the Ungava Bay community of Quaqtaq, had fallen off her sled. It was time for a break.
"Harry spoke about dog sledding and his desire to share that passion," recounted Rietveld. "I remember two things from that afternoon: his desire for a meaningful life wrapped up in dog sledding and the dog slaughter -- that was the first time I'd ever heard about it."
It was beginning to seem like it would never happen. For a sixth year, the Harper government was sending a team into the Arctic to search for the lost Franklin ships. The expeditions were starting to seem as doomed as Franklin's own: the British explorer famously got stuck in Arctic ice during his 1845 expedition to navigate the Northwest Passage. He never made it. Franklin and all 128 men from his two British navy ships -- HMS Erebus and HMS Terror -- escaped to land, where one by one they died from a somewhat predictable inability to survive in the Arctic environment, resorting to a bit of cannibalism along the way.