Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit July 15, 2016 - 7:20 am

Thule replica dwelling gets thumbs-up from Nunavut board

“The main goal is to determine what is there and how much work it will be"

STEVE DUCHARME
The Crystal II site near Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, one of two potential spots the Inuit Heritage Trust is considering for a Thule replica dwelling site. (IHT PHOTO)
The Crystal II site near Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, one of two potential spots the Inuit Heritage Trust is considering for a Thule replica dwelling site. (IHT PHOTO)
The second site that the Inuit Heritage Trust is considering for a Thule dwelling — on the Apex Trail near the old Iqaluit cemetery. (IHT PHOTO)
The second site that the Inuit Heritage Trust is considering for a Thule dwelling — on the Apex Trail near the old Iqaluit cemetery. (IHT PHOTO)

A traditional whalebone and sealskin-wrapped Thule dwelling in Nunavut’s capital is one step closer to construction after getting a regulatory board’s screening decision on the project July 7.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board concluded in its initial screening that a full-scale review of the Inuit Heritage Trust proposal is not required — allowing organizers to move forward with the project.

The proposed “Thule House” will be a semi-permanent structure built from fiberglass supports, mimicking whalebone, and wrapped in a sealskin cover.

IHT representatives presented the project to board members of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. during its annual general meeting in Apex last year.

The dwelling replicates Thule habitats found near Iqaluit dating to about 1500 CE, around the time when Thule culture replaced the older Dorset culture across the Eastern Arctic.

Project manager Torsten Diesel told Nunatsiaq News the goal is to have the dwelling completed by autumn 2017.

But he adds that a great deal of work must be done first to determine a final site for the project.

Diesel says archaeologists will visit two possible locations this August to determine each site’s viability.

One site lies near Iqaluit’s old cemetery, near the Apex trail, while another, dubbed “Crystal II,” is near Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park and contains actual foundations and artifacts from historic Thule dwellings.

“The main goal is to determine what is there and how much work it will be to properly excavate, document and conserve the material,” Diesel said.

The preferred site for the Thule dwelling, from IHT’s perspective, is the Crystal II location, Diesel said, mostly because of the historic area surrounding the site.

The site was discovered by Arctic archeologists in 1948 and it’s famous for being the first site where historians distinguished between Thule and Dorset remains.

“It’s a very complex and exciting site,” he said, adding that elders consulted by IHT also preferred the Crystal II location.

But Diesel warns that if archaeologists discover too many artifacts during their investigation next month, the location will have to be moved to the second location on the Apex Trial.

“If this site is too rich, we probably cannot afford it, or do not have the resources in Nunavut to do that,” he said, adding that any artifacts found would have to be stored and catalogued for preservation.

And the risk of that is high since the Crystal II site likely contains many priceless artifacts from both Thule and earlier Dorset cultures.

Artifact preservation poses a challenge for a territory that currently has no facility to handle historical relics and which outsources much of its holdings to southern institutions.

“The downside of course is that you don’t have that historical background [at the Apex Trail site] and the in-depth experience either as a visitor or a local to go there and immerse yourself in the culture,” Diesel said.

Diesel expects the IHT board will come to a decision on the final site “sometime in the winter,” after the archaeological team submits their findings.

In the meantime, IHT will construct the artificial whalebone support beams for the house, as well as design and construct the sealskin outer cover.

Diesel added that IHT stills needs approval from the City of Iqaluit for the final procurement of land.

Once the project is completed, the heritage trust hopes to use the site for a combination of tourism, education and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit events.

If the Crystal II site is chosen, IHT is proposing to build a boardwalk to the site for convenient access.

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