Author hopes sharing father’s personal journey helps illuminate Nunavik history

“[The book]is more than just a biography of him, it became an illustration of the history of the region and the community of Kuujjuaq,” says Larry Watt. (Courtesy Larry Watt)
The co-author of a newly released book delving into the life of Inuit leader Johnny Watt said he hopes it sheds light on his father’s invaluable contributions as well as pivotal moments in Nunavik’s development.

“My father was a hunter, a pilot and a natural born leader,” Larry Watt told Eye on the Arctic in a phone interview. “He dealt with widespread famine and epidemics and went from learning hunting and fishing skills in early childhood to ship navigating and piloting, but his life also serves as a framework for the changes experienced by the region.

“[The book]is more than just a biography of him, it became an illustration of the history of the region and the community of Kuujjuaq.”

Larry describes the book, Johnny Watt, His Life, His world, His Ways, co-written with Robyn Bryant, as a labour of love.

“I started it over 10 years ago, and at one point, we, had a long break in the project because of other priorities,” Larry said. “But then I realized that all of the recordings that we’d done provided an important record of his life story and of the community. So, from there, I decided to try to complete the project. And when it finally came out (this fall), it was a relief.”

From hunter, to pilot, to mayor 

Larry Watt and his father Johnny in Nunavik. (Courtesy Larry Watt)

Johnny Watt (1926-2021) grew up in Old Chimo, a settlement not far away from where the current town of Kuujjuaq is located.

He lived a traditional life but went on to become a ship pilot and mayor of Kuujjuaq amongst other important roles in the region, including participation in the process leading up to the landmark James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement land claims agreement.

“It shows how he developed over the years, and all the big changes that came to Nunavik in such a short period of time,” Watt said.

The book is based on 30 hours of interviews with Bryant, with Larry acting as translator.

He said even after growing up on this father’s stories, he kept learning new things about him while working on the book, something that made the process a  particularly moving experience.

His father’s recollections of the dog slaughter by police in the 1960s was just one example, Larry said.

“I knew it had happened but not how much losing his dogs and traditional way of life impacted him,” Larry said.

Potential for schools 

Johnny Watt lived a traditional life but went on to become a ship pilot and mayor of Kuujjuaq amongst other important roles in the region. (Courtesy Larry Watt)

Larry Watt says he hopes this father’s experiences and accomplishment can inspire other Inuit and potentially be used in educational settings as well.

“[Me and co-author Robyn Bryant] wrote this book to appeal to a wide-range of audiences; Inuit and non-Inuit, young people and scholars. The book is organized into thematic chapters so that teachers could even use it in classrooms or discussion groups.”

The book is currently available in a split English/Inuktitut edition. An ebook version in French is also being planned.

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Celebrations begin Saturday to mark 50 years of Yukon land claims history, CBC News

Greenland: Danish PM apologizes to Greenlanders taken to Denmark as children in 1950s, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway truth commission details country’s dark history of assimilation, CBC News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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