Kugluktuk’s Edna Elias helps put her great-grandfather’s life on the screen

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History is sometimes harsh, sometimes giving.

Edna Elias, wearing a traditional parka, was the associate producer of the film Edna’s Bloodline, which screened in Yellowknife on Oct. 28 and in Kugluktuk on Nov. 2. The documentary focuses on Elias’s great-grandfather, Petter Norberg.
Photo courtesy of Eva Wunderman/Wunderman Film

Edna Elias was confronted with that reality while in the role of associate producer on the film Edna’s Bloodline, a documentary about her great-grandfather’s life and times.

Petter Norberg, who came from Sweden, has descendants in Kugluktuk, Inuvik and the Yukon. Prior to coming to Canada’s North in the late 1800s, he and other relatives performed forced labour.

“Very poor people were auctioned off to work. It’s kind of like slavery, in a sense,” Elias said. “Thus the reason to leave Sweden to find a means of income to support his family that he left behind… As soon as he hit 16, he became a seaman and left.”

After arriving in Canada, Norberg made a living from trapping and working for the Hudson’s Bay Company as he had missed out on the gold rush. The end of his life came tragically. He drowned in the Coppermine River in the 1930s and his body was never recovered. Yet he’s left behind more than 100 descendants, Elias said.

Over the past few years, she helped to put together the film about Norberg. It’s based on a biography by a Swedish author, who contacted her. The documentary entailed filming on location in Kugluktuk and close to a dozen residents participated in the re-enactments while others assisted with transportation.

“I’m very pleased with it,” Elias said of the finished product. “I was hoping we’d show so much more but we can only fit so much in an hour and stick to the storyline.”

She saw the film’s final cut in Harnosand, Sweden – Petter’s hometown – in August.

“I have to say I got a little bit shy as I saw all the people waiting to go into the theatre,” Elias recalled. “There must have been a couple of hundred people.”

She screened Edna’s Bloodline in Kugluktuk on Nov. 2. Though the turnout wasn’t what Elias hoped for – she was competing against radio bingo and a public meeting – there may be a chance for Nunavummiut to see the film on TV. The film will air on TV Ontario on Nov. 22 and producer Eva Wunderman is trying to arrange to have Edna’s Bloodline shown on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, Elias noted.

Edna’s Bloodline also played at the Yellowknife Film Festival on Oct. 28. Although Elias couldn’t make it, she received some positive feedback.

“I heard from a couple of people who went to it and they said it was very interesting and emotional. They didn’t realize I had Swedish and Gwich’in ancestry,” she said.

She said she will show the film in Iqaluit too, if she gets the opportunity.

Elias isn’t done with her genealogical studies. She plans to resume working on a book about her grandfather, Johnny Norberg.

“This movie totally distracted me and I put it on the backburner so I have to get back at it, eventually,” she said.