History

Returned Inuit artifacts on exhibit in Nunavut

  • Oct 27, 2013
  • 774 words
  • 4 minutes
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All school-aged children in Norway learn his name.

And thanks to the recent repatriation of a handful of Nattilik Inuit artifacts he collected in the early 1900s, perhaps Canadians will learn his name too.

Roald Amundsen, that is.

“He was a global person and taught our people about culture, about the strong and striving culture of the North,” says Norwegian Ambassador Mona Brøther.

As a child, Brøther remembers learning about Canada’s North through Amundsen’s artifacts, which he brought to Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History on his return journey from navigating the Northwest Passage in 1906.

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Nattilik Inuit visit Amundsen’s ship, the Gjøa in Gjoa Haven in the early 1900s. From left: Anana, Onaller, Kabloka and Umiktuallu. (Photo: © Amundsen expedition 1903-1905, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)

On his journey to Canada’s North, Amundsen spent two years in Nunavut anchored off King William Island while taking magnetic measurements of the North Pole. There, he traded with several tribes of Nattilik Inuit and acquired numerous tools, clothing and weapons.

A total of 16 of these artifacts were returned to the community of Gjoa Haven in mid-October this year after a 100-year absence. The artifacts can now be viewed in the community’s Heritage Centre, recently built to house the historic treasures.

“I was blown away,” says Tone Wang, head of exhibits at the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History.

“The level of professionalism, the involvement of the community and the quality of the work that’s been done, I don’t think I have ever seen that thorough professionalism realized in a small centre that far north,” she says.

Wang and her colleagues at the museum first discussed the idea of repatriating the artifacts to Gjoa Haven in the early 1990s, but up until recently the two-general-store town lacked a place to display the artifacts.

Jacob Keanik, president of the Nattilik Heritage Society — the organization that runs the Heritage Centre — says the centre will encourage learning for generations to come.

“The centre will benefit our younger generation because in it they can see the artifacts that show them where they have come from,” he says.

For Wang, the full affect of these artifacts has yet to be seen.

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Many of the artifacts Amundsen collected, such as this snow shovel, taught him valuable lessons of how to survive in polar temperatures. (Photo: © Adnan Icagic 2013, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)

“Some of what is in the exhibit is immediately recognizable to the community as items that are still used today, such as the harpoon. However, others were not at all recognized.”

Whether the items are recognized or not, Wang says she noticed local artists and craftspeople using the artifacts for inspiration.

“One of the really exciting aspects of this collection is that it has so much meaning and importance both to Canadian Nattilik Inuit and to Norwegians,” Wang says.

Ambassador Brøther echoes Wang and marks the repatriation as a symbol of a “historic bond” between the two countries.

For that, she is grateful to Norway’s polar explorers.

“We are very proud of our Norwegian polar explorers because they formed an important part of our history,” says Brøther.

Perhaps Canadians too, can be proud of polar explorers like Amundsen. While he was busy carving out a history for Norway, he preserved one for Canada’s North.

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A Nattilik tent looks out to Amundsen’s ship, the Gjøa. (Photo: © Amundsen expedition 1903-1905, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)
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Ahiva and his wife Alo-Alo ready to go hunting. Norwegian explorer Amundsen called Ahiva a dandy – a young man with a well-developed interest in clothes and style. (Photo: © Amundsen expedition 1903-1905, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)
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Amundsen collected the artifacts, including this harpoon, during the early 1900s. (Photo: © Adnan Icagic 2013, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)
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The Amundsen collection at Gjoa Haven’s heritage centre includes this shaman’s belt. (Photo: © Adnan Icagic 2013, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)
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Gjoa Haven mayor, Joanni Sallerina (left) and Peter Akkukugnaq unpack the Amundsen’s collection in Gjoa Haven. (Photo: © Tone Wang 2013, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)
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Nattilik Heritage Centre President Jacob Keanik (from left), community elder Jonathan Hikqiniq and Kitikmeot Inuit Association President Charlie Evalik take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of Nattilik Heritage Centre. (Photo: © Tone Wang 2013, Museum of Cultural History – University of Oslo, Norway)
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