Special MA Seminar

Lecture by Sarah Parsons (York University, Canada)

‘Planted there like human flags’: Photographs of Inuit Canadians and Cold War Anxiety

Thursday, 10 March 2016

13.00 p.m. -15.00 p.m.

Portland Building (room 2.3)

Craig HarbourBetween 1953 and 1955, the Canadian government moved eleven Inuit families more than 1500km north in order to establish settlements on remote islands in the High Arctic. The conditions the relocated left behind were already difficult, but the move was devastating for the families involved. They had been enticed by the promise of support in returning to an older way of life. Instead, they found out en route that their families would be split up and dispersed along with four unknown families from another area. The material support provided was inadequate especially considering the terrain was barren and the settlers were moving to an area facing twenty four hour darkness for part of the year.

This move has been referred to by survivors as the planting of “human flagpoles” because the 1950s marked an almost hysterical level of concern in Canada about sovereignty as the nation moved out from the shadow of England and into the shadow of its wealthier and much more powerful neighbor to the south. My talk explores the role photography played in geopolitical strategy and in managing anxiety about Canadian sovereignty and the high arctic. Given that everything that transpired in the coldest theatre of the Cold War took place beyond the sight of all but a handful of people, the relative dearth of attention to photography of this historical period is surprising. This paper examines the circulation of photographs of the Inuit and the Canadian Arctic in the wider context of Cold War politics and probes the way these images of the North stake their power and claims to sovereignty on very different terms than more familiar displays of military might.