OTTAWA – Parks Canada is launching a new initiative in Nunavut to collect and share the testimony of Inuit elders who have knowledge of the doomed Franklin expedition of 1845.
The project is seeking a contractor to conduct archival research and record interviews with Inuit elders with historical knowledge of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror shipwreck sites.
The two ships were part of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 quest to find the elusive Northwest Passage and their disappearance remains a mystery today. The expedition’s 129 crew members were never found.
Catherine McKenna, the minister of the environment and minister in charge of Parks Canada, acknowledged the integral role Inuit oral history played in the search for the Franklin shipwrecks.
“In this case, we know that Inuit knowledge helped to find the ships,” said McKenna.
It’s important that the Inuit stay involved — for their own sake as well as Canada’s, the minister added.
“I think there’s been a lot of focus on European explorers,” she said. “Maybe it’s time to put more of the focus on the Inuit.”
Parks Canada archeologists located the wrecked HMS Erebus off the coast of King William Island in 2014 with the help of Inuit historical knowledge passed on orally over generations. The HMS Terror was found at the bottom of Terror Bay two years later, nearly 100 kilometres away.
The new project’s co-ordinators are hoping to collect similar knowledge and testimony from Inuit elders to fill gaps in contemporary research on the history of the wreckage sites.
Tamara Tarasoff, the project manager of the shipwrecks’ historic sites, said she’s hopeful the project will be a success.
“Now that we have the wrecks, it’s time to continue with engaging in additional oral history research,” Tarasoff said.
“It could be new stories, new observations, or new information that we’re able to glean from engaging in oral history research with the Inuit of King William Island,” she said.
Parks Canada would like to produce video and audio of the testimonies as well as a book with up to 100 images of the site, including archival photographs.
Louie Kamookak, a leading Inuit historian and educator whose work helped locate the Erebus, said he is encouraged by the project.
“Today’s younger generations have gotten away from the Inuit oral history,” Kamookak said in an email. “Preserving Inuit oral history in today’s technology would be the only way to pass the stories, knowledge, and culture in any aspect of our amazing ancestors that once lived where no other people chose to live.”
Kamookak added that although Parks Canada approached him to help with the initiative, he is unsure whether he will, mainly because of his personal health issues.
The tender is open for bidding until March 27.