January/february 2015, Canadian Geographic highlights Inuit oral tradition
“It’s a real reminder to me of why I am proud to work where I work,” says Gilles Gagnier, Canadian Geographic’s chief operating officer and publisher, of the magazine’s involvement in the 2015 Malerualik Expedition. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society-funded expedition took place in September and saw Louie Kamookak, an Inuit historian from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, take youth from the community to key sites related to Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition of 1845. The aim? To pass on the oral histories that Kamookak has collected and preserved in the Inuit tradition. Alanna Mitchell and photographer Jason Fulford accompanied the trip to produce a feature story for the January/february issue. The piece details the expedition and celebrates Kamookak’s role in Franklin-related Inuit oral history (which proved instrumental in the 2014 discovery of HMS Erebus) as well as his mission to share that knowledge with a new generation. Those achievements earned Kamookak the Society’s 2015 Lawrence J. Burpee Medal, awarded to those who have gone to lengths to make Canada better known to Canadians and the world. “There’s still a haunting, a mystery behind it from the stories that were passed down,” Kamookak told Mitchell of the enduring draw of Franklin. A visit to an unmarked grave on Todd Island — which Inuit oral history says holds the remains of a Franklin crewman — reinforced that notion. There, as Mitchell shared in a post-expedition blog, “some of the bones lie exposed to the harsh Arctic elements, spotted with lichen.” Real reminders, indeed.
Students ( top, on rock) and an Inuit elder pause to take in the view during the 2015 Malerualik Expedition, led by Louie Kamookak ( above).