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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic August 01, 2014 - 7:35 am

Taissumani, Aug. 1

Blood On The Snow – Robert Janes’s Last Journey (Part 4 of 4)

KENN HARPER
Nuqallaq, photographed in 1923. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Nuqallaq, photographed in 1923. (HARPER COLLECTION)

On March 11, 1920 Nuqallaq and a party of Inuit hunters and their families arrived at a seal hunting camp on the ice off Cape Crauford, northern Baffin Island.

They were surprised to discover that Robert Janes, a Newfoundland trader, was there, having diverted from his intended course to Igloolik and south. Nuqallaq and Janes had once been bitter enemies, but the enmity had waned after Nuqallaq had taken a wife.

Still, relations were often tense between the two and Nuqallaq generally went out of his way to avoid any contact with the trader.

Janes’s intended quick stop at Cape Crauford stretched into a number of days. During this time, his behaviour became quite irrational.

Convinced that many of the hunters owed him for trade, he began to threaten them. He would, he claimed, kill the Inuit and their dogs if they did not hand over their furs.

The men of the camp held a meeting. If Janes’s behaviour did not improve, someone would have to kill him. As a natural leader, that man would have to be Nuqallaq. 

Morning dawned clear and cold on Sunday, March 15. Robert Janes began his sixth day at Cape Crauford, the most northerly white man in Canada, the only non-native in a hunting camp of 19 Inuit men, some accompanied by their wives and children.
The Inuit men went hunting, as usual. When they returned, they heard that Janes had continued his bizarre behaviour, and they knew that they could no longer postpone the inevitable.

That night, Nuqallaq hid himself behind Ataguttaaluk’s snowhouse, while Aatitaaq stood beside its entry. Maniq positioned a qamutiik upright beside Nuqallaq to conceal him.

Nuqallaq was the only man carrying a gun. With everyone in position, Ululijarnaaq went to Paumik’s igloo and asked Janes to come out. Some Inuit had some fox pelts for him, he told the trader.

Janes didn’t bother with his parka. He would be warm enough in his heavy red woollen shirt and his thick vest. Caribou skin pants and boots covered his lower body.

He bent his lanky frame through the low doorway and stepped into the chill spring night. Ululijarnaaq followed him out. Maniq whispered loudly to Nuqallaq that Janes was outside.

The trader strode straight along the path in the direction of Nuqallaq’s snowhouse. Ululijarnaaq, missing his cue, suddenly told the trader to stop, then, realizing that he was not yet in Nuqallaq’s sight, just as abruptly told him to carry on.

Janes walked a little further, a target growing larger and closer. The hunter aimed nervously and fired. The shot missed.

Janes, suddenly angry and afraid, cried out in English but the Inuit could not understand what he said. He kept walking. He couldn’t tell where the sound had come from, but he recognized it as a rifle shot.

He looked around, confused and frightened, and recognized Nuqallaq. Not realizing that he was staring into the face of his executioner, he called out to him, “Nuqallaq uvvaa! — Nuqallaq, here!”  Terror gripped him as he begged Nuqallaq to help him.

Nuqallaq fired again, and this time the bullet ripped through the vest and the woollen shirt and tore through his flesh above the hip.

Aatitaaq then ran up behind Janes, took hold of him above the hips and pushed him along, until Janes tripped over a qamutiik. Aatitaaq gave him a final push and he fell to the ground.

Blood oozed from under Janes’s clothing, and a crimson stain crept darkly across the hard-packed snow. The trader tried to get up, but he could only rise enough to place his weight on one elbow as he cried out in pain and fear. 

Some of the men came from their snowhouses and congregated around Janes. They stood expressionless over the fallen trader, like official witnesses at an execution. No one spoke. There was nothing left to say, to Janes or to each other. Words had already failed.

The only sounds were the cries of the man they knew as Sakirmiaq as he thrashed about in agony and in the certain knowledge of his impending death.
Nuqallaq gazed down at his old tormentor. Janes searched the faces above him for that of his nemesis. Their eyes met. In that instant, fear and resignation melded into a mutual acceptance of the inevitable.

Nuqallaq raised the rifle slowly but without hesitation. The width of a qamutiik separated him from Janes. A final shot seared cleanly through the trader’s head. The bullet entered his skull above the left ear and exited behind the right ear into the snow.

Three years later, Nuqallaq, Ululijarnaaq and Aatitaq would stand trial for murder.

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 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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