Canadian Geographic - - YOUR SOCIETY - —In­ter­view by Jensen Ed­wards

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.

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