FEATURED FELLOW: KENN HARPER
A teacher by trade, a historian by practice and a Danish knight by appointment, Kenn Harper has spent more than 50 years living in Nunavut and Greenland learning stories from around the Arctic. He’s published many of these stories of Inuit and Arctic history in a regular Nunatsiaq News column and in his book series In Those Days. Harper’s latest book, In Those Days: Tales of Arctic Whaling, which explores the growth of the whaling industry and the impact it had on Inuit and the North, will be released in October.
On his time in the North
What I’ve learned is what most non-inuit realize if they stay in the Arctic long enough. After you’ve been there for a couple of years, you think you know everything about living there, but the longer you stay, the more you realize you know very little. It’s quite humbling. For me, the thing that made all the difference in the world was learning to speak the Inuktitut language. Most white people in the Arctic don’t bother to do this, but all of a sudden I was able to talk to my students’ parents and grandparents. It has made my life more interesting and it opened up the Arctic for me.
On digging up little-known Arctic history
Some of these stories began with things I’d heard from Inuit — they started out as oral histories. But a lot of it is also based on archival research (I’m an avid researcher and historic book collector). Among my most prized books are two editions of the Inuktitut vocabulary that was published [in Britain] for the use of the Franklin search expeditions. It’s a very rare work.
On a standout chapter in his new book
One story that particularly fascinates me is that of Inuluapik. He was a young man from Cumberland Sound, on southern Baffin Island, a place first seen by white men in the late 1500s, when English explorer John Davis sailed up the sound looking for the Northwest Passage. But in all the years after that, no Europeans could find the entrance to it again. In 1839, Inuluapik begged to go to Scotland with William Penny, a whaler. Penny agreed to take him, but had an ulterior motive. He hoped that by having Inuluapik with him, he might interest the British authorities and whaling interests in financing an exploratory voyage to find the mouth of Cumberland Sound, but he was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Inuluapik drew a map of the entrance to the sound. They put together a second map that became the only admiralty chart to be attributed in part to an Inuk person. The following year, he and William Penny set off across the Atlantic Ocean and sailed right into the mouth of Cumberland Sound. To me, Inuluapik is one of those overlooked heroes of Canadian history. His contributions changed the whaling industry and the history of Baffin Island because they resulted in shore-based whaling stations in that region.
Kenn Harper’s new book, In Those Days: Tales of Arctic Whaling, will be released in mid-october.