July 27, 2007


Minting a Polar Controversy


The Royal Canadian Mint has inadvertently created controversy with its issuance of a coin to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the first International Polar Year.

The coin, which shows the Queen on one side, depicts on the reverse an image of Sir Martin Frobisher and an Inuk in a kayak.

The controversy has been raised by Canada's national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) over the suitability of juxtaposing the images of Frobisher and the kayaker, given that in 1576 Frobisher abducted a kayaker and hauled him off to England, from whence the poor man never returned. This unfortunate juxtaposition has reminded Inuit of the abduction, and of the trauma of the first documented encounter between Inuit and Englishmen in present-day Canada.

But there are two sides to every story. As the Globe and Mail editorialized on July 23, accounts of the voyage show that the Inuk in question was taken aboard and held to barter him for the freedom of five of Frobisher's crew who disappeared when they went by boat too close to an Inuit village. Frobisher never saw them again. "If indeed it is a ‘dark moment,'" the Globe noted, "its gloom is cast equally."

Most Inuit, of course, will never see this $20 commemorative coin and most, I think it's safe to say, are unaware of what happened in Frobisher Bay over 400 years ago. The coin, moreover, doesn't depict Frobisher lifting the kayaker physically from the sea in his kayak (as Frobisher did.) A large compass rose separates the two men, a sailing ship sits in a placid sea against a backdrop of mountains. A polar bear, now the world-wide symbol for an Arctic imperiled by global warming, heads for the water in the lower front.

The $20 commemorative coin at the centre of the controversy.

A spokesman for the mint has said that the kayaker on the coin represents Inuit as the first explorers of the north and that the man is not meant to be evocative of the abduction. Alex Reeves said, "It's about polar exploration and nothing else. It's not about Sir Martin Frobisher's first meeting with Inuit peoples."

He went on to say, "We chose a design composed of elements which depict polar exploration themes, recognizing Inuit peoples as the first polar explorers and also recognizing Sir Martin Frobisher and his first attempt to discover the Northwest Passage."

But why? The effort seems well-intentioned and poorly executed. The mint wants to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the first IPY. But that event, happening in 1882-3, was over three centuries after Frobisher's forays into the Eastern Arctic. Poor choice.

Furthermore, Frobisher's voyage (at least the first one) was, as the mint's spokesperson acknowledges, all about finding a Northwest Passage - in other words, about exploring and advancing geographical knowledge.

This has nothing to do with the aims of the first IPY. Its purpose was to advance scientific knowledge, specifically through a study of meteorology, magnetism and the aurora. Again, poor choice.

And we could launch into a protracted debate on whether Inuit were the first polar explorers. There is no doubt that they and their predecessors of the Thule, Dorset and pre-Dorset cultures were the first people to live in the Arctic, but were they explorers or merely people trying to make a living, raise their families in a tough environment, and move on when environmental or societal conditions warranted?

Portrait of Karl Weyprecht, the lieutenant who had been co-leader of the Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition of 1872-74

Of course they should be commemorated on polar coins and other memorabilia. Good choice, poor reason.

The first IPY had two major stations in what is now Canada. One, the German station at Sirmilik Bay in Cumberland Sound (about which I wrote in a three-part article which commenced on May 25, 2007) certainly employed Inuit as assistants in manning the station and keeping the scientists alive through the provision of skin clothing and country food.

But there was no scientific leader recognizable enough to be depicted on a commemorative coin. The other, at Lady Franklin Bay, was the tragic expedition led by Lieutenant Adolphus Greely of the United States Army. There were Inuit involved, but they were Greenlanders.

And unfortunately for the worthy Greely, with tensions periodically flaring today over sovereignty in the Canadian High Arctic, there was little chance that the Royal Canadian Mint would choose to depict an American army officer on a Canadian commemorative coin. (A third IPY station in Canada, at Fort Rae, was small and had no recognizable figures associated with it.)

Perhaps Karl Weyprecht, the lieutenant who had been co-leader of the Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition of 1872-74, and subsequently the driving force behind the establishment of the first IPY, might have been a better character to commemorate. Ironically, having set all the wheels in motion, he died in 1881, the year before his dream reached fruition. Without his dedication there would have been no IPY.

The objection will be raised that his image is unknown and he is therefore unrecognizable as a polar figure. I would suggest that, to most Canadians, the image of Martin Frobisher is similarly unrecognizable.

To recipients of the controversial coin, Frobisher only becomes known through the accompanying printed text. The same result, without the controversy, could have been achieved with a depiction of the over-looked Weyprecht.

Next week, I'll write about the abduction itself.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.


July 20, 2007


Sivataaqvik — Biscuit Day


Although many of the whalers who came to the Canadian Arctic were rough-and-tumble types, a number of the ships' captains were devout Christian men who observed the Sabbath. On some ships, all work stopped at midnight on Saturday night and did not resume for 24 hours. Often the ship's doctor or the captain himself would conduct divine services.

The Inuit quickly learned which captains observed the Sabbath and which did not, though they can only have had a rudimentary idea of the reasons behind this forced and artificial abstinence from activity.

Margaret Penny accompanied her husband, William Penny, a well-known whaling master, on a wintering voyage to Cumberland Sound in 1857. Penny observed the Sabbath, and Margaret recorded in her journal for Sunday, Oct. 11, that six or seven whales were seen, and that divine service was held at 2 p.m. She wrote that, "The Esquimaux seem to understand very well that they are to respect this day, for they go about very quietly & forego their usual occupations."

For the Inuit, time had been governed by the seasons, the regular ebb and flow of the tide, the coming of light and dark. But it had never before been broken up into artificial units wherein every seventh day was one of refrain from unnecessary labour, no matter how conducive the weather might be to profitable or pleasurable activity.

This new regime necessitated new words, and in particular there was a need to define this artificial seven-day period. In Inuktitut, there is a verb, "pinasuaqtuq," to describe working or being active. In Baffin Island and some other parts of the Arctic, the root of this word, with an appropriate suffix, "rusiq", became "pinasuarusiq" - a unit of time measuring activity, therefore a week.

Individual days also needed defining. And the most important day for the pre-Christian Inuit was not the Sabbath but the day before the Sabbath, for this was the day on which most whalers paid off the Inuit in their employ. Of course, money was an unheard-of commodity in the Arctic. Rather, the whalers paid their assistants in goods like guns, ammunition and clothing, and with food items, like tea, coffee, molasses, sugar, and the ever-popular ship's biscuit.

The Inuit have a word, "siva" which Lucien Schneider's dictionary defines as "the solid part of a piece of blubber or fat that was melted over a fire." By analogy, because of its hardness, some Inuit used this word to describe the ship's biscuit that was so popular a food item.

One of the joys of Inuktitut, a characteristic that makes it so capable of describing new concepts, is its ability to add an affix or a series of affixes to modify a root word and give it a new or related meaning. In this way, in Baffin Island, siva + taaq (an affix showing getting or acquiring) + vik (an affix denoting the time when something occurs) becomes "sivataaqvik" - the time when you get your biscuits. And that day was Saturday.

Today in Baffin communities the word "sivataaqvik" still means Saturday. Of course, when one hears the word, no-one thinks of biscuits anymore. The word has become lexicalized - it has a new meaning divorced from the sum of its parts. But it was once the most important day of the week - the day when rations were given out. Biscuit Day.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

July 13, 2007


Anorak – The Hijacking of an Inuit Word


"Annuraaq" is a perfectly good Inuktitut word used in all Canadian dialects. It refers to garments or articles of clothing. In some contexts it can mean upper garment or shirt.

In Greenland it has the same meanings, but can also have a specialized meaning to describe a tightly hooded, short-bodied pullover jacket. In white, these form part of the national costume for Greenlandic men.

Whalers who frequented the Greenland coast during the 1800s borrowed the word and adopted it into their language, with the spelling "anorak." It has been used in Britain for over a century to mean a jacket or coat, with a hood, and usually resistant to rain. It is shorter than a raincoat. The hood is generally lined with fur or imitation fur.

Ironically, in North America, including Canada, the word "anorak" is not generally used to describe this type of outer clothing. Instead North Americans use the word "parka," itself a word of Aleutian origin. But the word is becoming more well-known. Kenny McCormick, the cartoon character on South Park, wears an orange anorak.

But back to Britain, where an Inuktitut word came into common usage, albeit with a modified spelling, as a popular article of outdoor rainy-weather clothing. As borrowings go, so far this one was fairly mundane and predictable. But the word's evolution was not yet complete.

Among railway enthusiasts there is a particular kind of hobbyist who is obsessed with seeing and making note of all rolling stock of a certain type, or belonging to a certain company, or, you name the criteria, and there will be someone wanting to see and document it.

These obsessive individuals are known as trainspotters (just to make the issue more confusing, the hobby, trainspotting, has nothing to do with the cult film of the same name). Because trainspotters must be out in all kinds of weather in pursuit of, or in wait for, trains as yet undocumented by them, the anorak became their favourite outerwear.

For those who are not trainspotters, this particular hobby is seen as the refuge of dull, unimaginative people with an obsessive interest in detail. Trainspotters are seen as boring, as nerds, as geeks. And for some reason - perhaps because their favoured clothing, the anorak, was also seen as unfashionable - anorak morphed onto a new meaning.

Today, in British slang, an "anorak" is a person with an incomprehensible interest in arcane detailed information on any subject that the rest of the population regards as boring. Even on a routine subject, one can be deemed an anorak if he cannot restrain himself from spouting his detailed knowledge on his chosen subject to anyone within earshot. The anorak offers "overly-detailed discussion and arcane trivia on hobbyist topics."

And so we have classic car anoraks, birdwatching anoraks, aircraft that have landed at Heathrow airport anoraks, and so on. Conrad Black has occasionally been called an anorak for his obsessive discourse on any number of topics.

It continues. In December 2006 a Montreal playwright, Adam Kelly, performed a one-man play called "The Anorak." It was about the madman who murdered 14 women at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. Asked why the play was called "The Anorak," Kelly explained: "Just before he shot himself, he took off his coat, which was an anorak, and wrapped it around the end of the barrel of the gun. It was a very strange thing to do. It wasn't going to stop the bullet. It wasn't going to muffle the sound. There was no reason, really."

It's been a strange journey indeed for the Inuktitut word "annuraaq," borrowed by whalers over a century ago as "anorak," and used now in British slang to describe geeky, obsessive individuals insistent on sharing their hard-won knowledge with those of us who probably don't care.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.


July 6, 2007


Uugaq, Inuk Traveller


The story of Uugaq is continued from last week.

One of the most bizarre aspects of Uugaq's trip to New York was his visit to a phrenologist.

Phrenology was a pseudo-science that was very popular in the nineteenth century. Developed in Germany around 1800 by a doctor, Franz Joseph Gall, its name comes from two Greek words meaning "mind" and "study." It held that there was a relationship between the attributes of the mind and the shape of a person's head.

Phrenologists believed that the brain was divided into areas of self-esteem, destructiveness, and so on. A trained phrenologist, they believed, could determine a person's character, his personality traits, even his tendencies toward criminality, by studying the shape of the head. This was known as "reading bumps" and it was quite fashionable to have one's bumps read. Today phrenology is discredited, and best practiced late at night in bars, while very drunk.

On December 14, 1854, Uugaq (identified as Mr. Uget) visited the Fowlers and Wells' Phrenological Cabinet, as the clinic was called, and was examined by Dr. Fowler himself, a professor of phrenology.

Fowler's report tells us that Uugaq's head was "shaped somewhat like the European cranium" and that he was "less savage, revengeful and cruel, than the North American Indian." Whether the good doctor knew Uugaq's marital history is unknown, but he went on to report, "He has more affection, friendship, love of wife and children, and interest in family and domestic enjoyment than the Indians generally have." (A contemporary New York newspaper which described Uugaq's visit to the United States informed its readership that "An Esquimaux is, in appearance, merely a short, fat Indian.")

The report continued: "He is very fond of his wife" - it didn't say which one - "and devotedly attached to children." He had "strong local attachment and interest in home as such." This was perhaps a natural observation to make about a man so far from home, and who might have been expected to be homesick.

The report continued:

"He does not develop his mind spontaneously, but dwells on subjects for a long time. He will be slow in maturing but will persevere in carrying out his plans and purposes. Combativeness is prominent, and he may be somewhat impulsive, but is not revengeful."

"Love of property is comparatively strong, but tact and duplicity, which is a peculiar characteristic of the Indian, is not prominent. He is naturally confiding and disposed to rely on the honesty and integrity of others. Is quite ambitious and very sensitive to the opinions of others; feels keenly everything said about him."

Then, in apparent contradiction to some of the other qualities already mentioned, the doctor observed that Uugaq was "wanting in dignity, pride, manliness, self-love, and a haughty aspiring mind, but is firm, persevering, tenacious, unchanging."

Continuing to check the bumps on Uugaq's uncomprehending head, the doctor observed that he was "kind, generous, sympathetic and comparatively humane; is respectful and inclined to submit to law. But he is not particularly penitent and conscientious, although there is more of that faculty than we generally find in the savage head."

Whether the doctor knew of the Inuit legendary ability to draw maps of familiar areas from memory is unknown, but he nonetheless reported, "The perceptive faculties are well developed. He has good observation - a good memory of forms and outlines - good talents to draw and copy - might make a good marksman - has an excellent memory of places and localities - and is very orderly and systematic; but has a poor memory of colors and events."

Phrenology, apparently, could even discern one's digestive properties for the report noted, "He has a good appetite, and better digestion than the white man." His temperament was described as "digestive and arterial" - which must have meant something in phrenological jargon - and he had a "fair amount of muscular power and nervous energy."

The bizarre visit over, Uugaq returned with Budington to the serenity of Groton, to spend Christmas with the captain and his family, and await the coming of spring and his return to the far north.

On April 11, 1855, Uugaq once again boarded the Georgiana with Captain Budington, and returned to his wives in Frobisher Bay.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.


June 29, 2007


Uugaq, Inuk Traveller


When Charles Francis Hall reached the mouth of Frobisher Bay in 1860 aboard the whaler, George Henry, on his first Arctic expedition, he quickly met a varied assort­ment of the Inuit who habituated that area, in the hope of making contact with whalers.

Hall was travelling with Sidney O. Budington, a veteran whaler from the port of Groton, Connecticut, who knew the Inuit of the area well, through his long years of fishing their waters.

Budington had even spent a winter among the Inuit, when he wintered the McLellan, in Cumberland Sound at Qimmiqsuut, the first wintering of a whaling ship in Baffin Island. Budington liked the Inuit and occasionally rewarded a man who had done particularly well for him with a trip to the United States to spend the winter in the comfortable home that the captain shared there with his wife, Sarah, and his children.

Such a man was Uugaq, a hunter in his late forties. (There are various spellings for the man's name. Charles Francis Hall spelled his name Ugarng; other sources spelled it Ugar or Uget.) He was a son of the famous Ookijoxy Ninoo (Hall's spelling), the oldest woman in the district, from whom Hall first heard the story of Martin Frobisher's expedition of almost three centuries earlier. He was also an uncle of Ipiirvik (Ebierbing) who, with his wife, Hannah, would become Hall's main guide and companion on his three Arctic expeditions.

A drawing of Uugaq.

From Hall we learn that Uugaq "displayed great qualities as a daring and successful hunter," and that he was "a remarkably intelligent man and a very good mechanic." Hall thought that he had "several excellent traits of character, besides some not at all commendable."

Among those that the avowed Christian, Hall, found not so commendable was Uugaq's proclivity for marriage. He had had 13 wives, and at the time Hall met him he was living with three of them.

In January of 1861 Hall, travelling away from the ship, sent a letter back to Budington in which he wrote that "Uugaq is industrious & persevering - in fact, his efforts exceed that of any Inuit with whom I am acquainted."

But Sidney Budington knew all that. In 1854, at the end of a single-season whaling voyage in command of the Georgiana, he had taken Uugaq to Groton to spend a winter with his family. Sidney and Sarah had been married for four years, and lived on Toll Road, about a mile or so from the ferry connecting Groton with New London. Their house was a plain, unpretentious dwelling, painted white, situated on a hill adjoining a pasture. To Uugaq, it was a palace.

Sarah Budington had been a school teacher and, despite being busy with two small children - Victoria, born in 1852, and Florence, born a year later - did her best to teach the Inuit that her husband brought home. From her Uugaq probably added to the English that he had already learned from sailors in the north.

What he had learned from sailors was rougher than the Christian Budingtons accepted in their home. Years later, when Hall met Uugaq in Frobisher Bay, he asked him about his trip to the United States. Uugaq had enjoyed his time in the quiet town of Groton, but the captain had also taken him on a trip to New York City.

This was a different world than the relaxed seaside atmosphere of Groton. "The ceaseless noise and bustle disturbed him," wrote a contemporary newspaper, "and he begged Captain Budington to take him away from such a horrible place."

Uugaq's remarks to Hall on the subject of New York were brief:

"G--- d---! Too much horse - too much house - too much white people. Women? Ah! Women great many - good!"

Back in Groton, Ugaq waited patiently for spring to come, when he would return north with Budington. "He carefully saves anything that may be given him," a paper reported, "in order to take it home and astonish his friends."


Next Week: Uugaq Visits a Phrenologist


Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

June 22, 2007


Who was Albert One-Eye?


Last week I introduced Albert One-Eye, an Inuk from James Bay who was hired by the British Admiralty to act as interpreter on a Franklin search expedition under Sir John Richardson and John Rae.

In August of 1848, Albert was with Richardson and Rae in the Mackenzie Delta, and, according to Richardson, had no great difficulty in understanding and making himself understood by the Inuit there. The explorer's narrative tells little about the interactions between Albert and the Inuit of the delta, but one anecdote is perhaps instructive about the delicate work of being an interpreter.

In answer to Richardson's questions about whether any white men had been seen in the area, one man told him that a party of white men were living on Richard's Island. But he didn't know that Richardson had been there the previous day. Richardson instructed Albert to tell the man that he knew he was lying.

"He received this retort with a smile," wrote Richardson, "and without the slightest discomposure, but did not repeat his assertion." Albert probably conveyed Richardson's doubts about the man's truthfulness with considerably more tact than the explorer himself recounted it in his memoirs, for the role of an interpreter among his fellow Inuit, especially those distant and unknown, required diplomacy and discretion.

Early the following year, writing from Fort Confidence, their winter quarters at the north-eastern corner of Great Slave Lake, Rae informed Governor Simpson of his plans to reach the Coppermine River. The crew would include Albert, once again described as "a very fine lad" and "fit for any of the duties of a labourer."

The men who traveled as part of such an expedition, with its attendant dangers, received a salary much higher than Albert had ever earned at a Hudson's Bay Company post. His was a whopping 35 pounds per year. Still, he was the lowest paid of any of the crew, everyone else earning 42 pounds and the steersman 45 pounds.

The party left Fort Confidence on June 7. They reached the Arctic coast in early July, and Albert found no difficulty in communicating with the Inuit they met there. But ice prevented them from crossing to Victoria Island where, the Coppermine Inuit reported, there lived Inuit who had never seen white men before. The party returned to Bloody Falls and began to travel up the Coppermine River on their return journey to Fort Confidence. Then, on August 24, tragedy struck.

They had successfully manoeuvred their boat up the dangerous part of the rapids and had reached an area where the current was strong but the river smooth. Rae thought it was safe to take a loaded boat up the river, with some of the men on shore tracking with a small line. "When halfway up some unaccountable panic seized the steersman," wrote Rae, and "he called on the trackers to slack the line, which was no sooner done sufficiently far, than he and the bowsman sprung on shore, and permitted the boat to sheer out into midstream [where] the line snapped, and the boat driving broadside to the current was soon upset."

John Rae and Albert ran down the bank of the river, expecting the boat to get caught in an eddy. The boat passed close to where Albert stood waiting, and he managed to hook it by the keel with an oar. Rae ran to help him and snatched a pole from the water and jammed it into a broken plank. He called to Albert to hold on with him.

Either Albert didn't hear him, or thought he would be of more assistance on the capsized boat. He sprung onto the bottom of the boat just before the current carried it towards the head of a little bay. Rae thought Albert was safe there, but in less than a minute he saw the boat come out of the protection of the bay, driven by the current, and sinking gradually beneath the water.

The last John Rae saw of Albert was the young man attempting to leap from the boat to the rocks. But he missed his target and disappeared into the water, "nor did he rise again to the surface."

John Rae placed the blame for Albert's death solely on James Hope, the Cree steersman, whom he described as "a notorious thief and equally noted for falsehood."

In 1848, Rae had been promoted by the company to be in charge of the Mackenzie River District, with his headquarters at Fort Simpson. He was to take up this post as soon as his service with Richardson was at an end, and he had hoped to retain Albert there as an employee. Recognizing the young man's abilities, Rae noted that "he would be useful in the event of it becoming desirable to have any negotiations with the Esquimaux at the mouth of the McKenzie (sic)," and he hoped "to make him in every way a most useful man to the Company."

The tragedy ended these well-intentioned plans. "This melancholy accident has distressed me more than I can well express," wrote Rae. "Albert was liked by every-one, for his good temper, lively disposition and great activity in doing anything that was required of him. I had become much attached to the poor fellow..."

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

June 15, 2007


Who was Albert One-Eye?


The lives of Inuit who served on Arctic expeditions are poorly recorded. Often a name is noted, but the amount of detail that follows is maddeningly meager. One such man was Albert One-Eye, an Inuk born about 1824 on the east coast of James Bay, the so-called Eastmain of the Hudson's Bay Company.

One of the small mysteries that surrounds Albert's short but eventful life is his very name. It was unusual, in those far-off days, for an Inuk to use a surname. And this was an evocative surname, conveying an image of a one-eyed man in the service of explorers.

Yet, in anything written about him by the men he served, there is no reference to any physical handicap. One suspects that he had none, and that "One-Eye" was indeed a quasi-surname - he was probably the son of a man who had lost an eye.

Of Albert's early life, nothing is known. In the summer of 1842, when he was about 18, he was at Rupert House. We know this because Chief Trader Thomas Corcoran of the Hudson's Bay Company arrived there that summer en route to Moose Factory. He took notice of the boy, and thought that the "Esquimaux Boy" as he called him, should see Moose Factory. This would indicate that young Albert had some abilities and that Corcoran thought he could be of use to the company. So on Aug. 2, Albert sailed in the sloop, Speedwell, for the company's main post in the region.

At Moose Factory, Albert entered into a contract with the Hudson's Bay Company to work for them for seven years as an apprentice labourer. His salary would be eight pounds a year for the first two years, rising every two years, to 10 pounds, 12 pounds and finally 15 pounds.

But his duties would not keep him at Moose Factory. The same year he was hired he traveled back to Rupert House with an Indian from the Eastmain - which would indicate that relations between Inuit and Indians were good on that coast at the time - and from there he traveled on to the company's post at Fort George where he and another Inuk named Moses acted as interpreters. This shows that it was the young man's abilities in English which had brought him to the notice of the company's chief trader.

Albert worked in the Rupert River District until early 1848. By then his apprenticeship period was not quite ended, but he was needed elsewhere. The previous year the British Admiralty had sent an expedition, led by Sir John Richardson, to search the Arctic coast between the Mackenzie and Coppermine rivers for the missing Franklin expedition. The Admiralty had requested that Albert join the expedition as interpreter and assistant. Albert's abilities as an interpreter must have been widely-known by then, but it was probably through the expedition's second in command, John Rae, that he was brought to the Admiralty's attention.

John Rae was a surgeon and fur trader with the Hudson's Bay Company as well as being an explorer in his own right. He had served the company at Moose Factory for 10 years, starting in 1834, and must have met young Albert when the Inuk was recruited in 1842.

Albert had been a valuable and popular employee of the company at Fort George. John Spencer, the company's trader there, was "exceedingly sorry to part with him." He wrote that Albert was "a nice steady lad, and a favourite with his Tribe."

On March 12, 1848 Albert reached Moose Factory and left shortly thereafter for the far north-west, travelling by way of Michipicoten and Cumberland House. He would never see his homeland again.

From Cumberland House, John Rae wrote a letter on June 13, 1848 to the company's governor, Sir George Simpson. In it he stated that they were taking no hunters with them to the Arctic coast, and would depend on Rae's own hunting ability "and the exertions of our Esquimaux Interpreter," whom he described as "a fine active lad," who would "no doubt prove to be a good deer hunter." The lad he was referring to was Albert One-Eye.

(To be continued next week)

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

June 8, 2007


IPY 1882-3: The German Station in Cumberland Sound – Part 3


(Continued from last week. Last week's article told about the routine of life at the research station, and the work of the Inuk, Okkeituk.)

The visitors that the Germans received at their isolated station were not all Inuit. In March, a German named Scherden, mate and carpenter of an American whaling schooner, the Lizzie P. Simmonds, arrived for a visit, a social call on his countrymen, as he explained it. Sandy Hall, from Jimmy Mutch's Scottish station, also stopped by while on a hunting trip.

In late July, with the ice opened up, the Lizzie P. Simmonds itself arrived in the bay and six men came ashore for a visit. They were its captain, John Roach, accompanied by his Inuit wife; Scherden; and four crew members - a German, a Spaniard, an Australian, and a Polynesian (or Kanaka as they were called in the whaling trade). Roach had come to hunt beluga, which calved in Millet Bay each spring, but southwesterly winds jammed the fiord's mouth with ice and prevented his ship's return to Kekerten.

By early September, the Germans were worried about the ice conditions, fearing that the Germania would be unable to make it to the station to pick them up and take them back home. Early that month, H. Abbes, mathematician and physicist, traveling with two other men from the station on an ice-reconnaissance trip by small boat, found the Lizzie P. Simmonds still stuck firmly in the ice at the mouth of the fiord.

Roach told them that if the ice did not soon clear, he would leave his ship at anchor and return to Kekerten by a smaller boat. He offered to take some of the Germans with him, but suggested that the rest of them "marry" Inuit women and settle down for another winter. Instead of leaving for Kekerten, though, Roach moved his ship farther back into the fiord, the only direction he could go, and anchored again at Sirmilik Bay.

Spending another winter was not an appealing thought. There had been dissension among the scientists, probably inevitable among so many men living in close quarters far from home. Three of the scientists had rebelled and were no longer taking part in the scientific program.

Unknown to the scientists, the Germania itself had been unable to enter Cumberland Sound for a month, blocked by ice from July 15 until Aug. 15. She had finally reached Kekerten on August 28 but, with the head of the sound still blocked solidly, there was no hope of her reaching Sirmilik Bay.

Just as the Germans were beginning to feel that another winter might be inevitable, two small boats were seen approaching the station. One was Roach's; the other a boat manned by Inuit. Imagine the surprise and relief of Dr Giese, the station leader, when a man stepped forward from the second boat and greeted him in his own language with, "Greetings from the Germania."

The man was the young anthropologist, Franz Boas, who had arrived on the Germania to begin a year of study in Cumberland Sound. He informed Giese that the ship had reached Kekerten and would wait there for the scientists.

Roach agreed to transport all of the Germans' supplies to Kekerten for a fee of fifty-five pounds. Then began a scramble to close down the station and load everything aboard the little schooner. The last observations were made on Sept. 9, concluding a series of readings that had lasted unbroken for 359 days.

A strong wind from the northwest had cleared the ice from the mouth of the fiord, and the Lizzie P. Simmonds left Sirmilik Bay on September 12. The next morning, she reached Kekerten where the Germania lay at anchor. Four days later the German ship left Kekerten for the return voyage to Hamburg. The expedition had been a success.

The wooden buildings at Sirmilik Bay have long ago been dismantled, the wood used for Inuit homes in the nearby camps. Outlines of the foundation of the main building can still be seen and some of the octagonal pillars brought from Germany still lie on the flat plain where the station once stood.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

June 1, 2007


IPY 1882-3: The German Station in Cumberland Sound – Part 2


(Continued from last week. In last week's article, the ship, Germania, brought a crew of German scientists to establish a research station at Sirmilik Bay in Cumberland Sound. The Germans hired one Inuk, Okkeituk, to work for them at the station.)


Okkeituk, who had a young wife and an 18-month-old daughter, had some knowledge of English, enough that he could act as interpreter for the scientists when other Inuit came to visit.

At first he and his family lived in a caribou skin tent near the station. Later in the winter they moved into a snow house. Once the weather had turned bitterly cold, Okkeituk made life easier for the scientists by building a snowblock passageway between their living quarters and the magnetic observation hut.

Most days he was busy hauling snow or, later, blocks of river ice, by dog sled, for the station's water supply. His weekly wages were five pounds of ship's biscuits, a quantity of tea, a cup of syrup and some tobacco. When the expedition left the following year, he was also given the Mauser rifle that he had used that winter, and a quantity of shells.

After freeze-up, the first of many Inuit visitors arrived on December 5. Okkeituk's father-in-law was among this small group, as was another man, Abbok, who had been to New York once as a reward for working for the whalers.

More Inuit arrived on December 22, to trade seal and caribou skins for tobacco. Christmas was a lonely time for the German scientists, but one of the Inuit cheered them up by providing them a caribou roast for Christmas dinner.

Shortly after Christmas, Okkeituk's baby took ill. Dr. Schleiphake of the German party attended to her in the family's tent, but to no avail. Two shamans arrived from Kekerten and performed rituals, which the Germans were not allowed to witness, but their efforts also failed. The little girl, whose name is unrecorded, died on January 5.

The day before she died Okkeituk built a new snowhouse. He knew that native custom dictated that, when she died, the family would have to abandon its dwelling and all its contents. Right after the baby's death, Okkeituk and his wife left for his father-in-law's camp to acquire new tools, weapons and equipment to replace the ones that they had left in the tent.

Because of the station's location, the sun disappeared on November 30 and did not reappear until January 14. This was a new phenomenon for the German scientists to experience. Characteristically, the coldest part of the winter was after the sun's return. That winter's lowest temperature of minus 49 degrees Celsius was recorded on March 2.

The immediate area of the camp was almost devoid of animals. All winter the scientists had seen only two ravens and a lemming. As spring approached a few arctic foxes were seen, but wolves could often be heard howling during the night.

As spring advanced, Okkeituk's second snowhouse of the winter collapsed. He fashioned a new tent using an old sail provided by the scientists. He and his wife felt deeply the loss of their daughter and so they adopted a three-year-old girl. Okkeituk continued hunting for fresh meat for the scientists and for his own family throughout the spring and early summer. In mid-summer, wanting to go on an extended char fishing and caribou hunting trip, he recruited an old man, Mitiq, to take his place at the station.

Spring had brought warmer weather, but the ice cover in this northwestern extremity of Cumberland Sound remained solid. A few of the scientists were able to enjoy the season by making survey trips by sled, accompanying Inuit, away from the station. By this time, Inuit reported, the whalers at Kekerten, farther down the sound, had already put their boats in the water to get ready for whaling.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.