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Homecoming: Abraham Ulrikab’s story featured in Inuktitut magazine and on the World Policy Institute’s Blog

(Version française de ce billet)

Hello everybody,

I am very pleased to report that the latest issue of Inuktitut magazine (Spring 2015), which is currently on its way to all Inuit households in Canada, contains an article, entitled Homecoming, about Abraham Ulrikab’s story. The article spans six pages and appears in no less than three languages: Inuktitut (both in syllabics and roman letters), English and French. The layout is really neat and also includes several photos of the Fall 2014 trip to Europe with Johannes Lampe, Nain’s chief elder and the Nunatsiavut Government representative, for the filming of Trapped in a Human Zoo.

The PDF version of this issue of the magazine is available on ITK’s website. You’ll find the article on pages 32-37.

Cover page Inuktitut magazine Spring 2015

Cover page Inuktitut magazine Spring 2015

I am also very pleased that the article was reprinted in the Arctic in Context section of the World Policy Institute’s blog.

"Homecoming" published in the "Arctic in Context" section of the World Policy Institute.

“Homecoming” published on the World Policy Institute’s blog.

That said, certain clarifications are in order since the article published in Inuktitut magazine contains inaccuracies and statements I do not fully agree with. Even though I am identified as the author of the article, major changes were made to the text I submitted. Unfortunately, I was not asked to review the new version before it went to translation and to print. I am convinced that this was an honest mistake with no harm intended, just like Jacobsen who forgot to have the Inuit vaccinated. Thank God the consequences were not as tragic! I am still very much alive and well 😉 And, this mishap gives me a new opportunity to share some of my knowledge about Abraham’s story.

As you can imagine, before the World Policy Institute reprinted the text, I asked for these inaccuracies to be corrected. The purpose of this blog post is therefore to explain the changes that were requested. It is sad that all Inuit households in Canada will be receiving a version of the article which is not 100% accurate, but what’s most important is that they are made aware of the story.

Without further delay, here are the differences between the Inuktitut magazine and the Arctic in Context versions:

  • In the introduction paragraph, we find the sentence “he saw the human remains of these individuals stacked upright, like lumber.” I must admit that I initially was not sure how to visualize lumber being stacked upright. But as Susan Felsberg, one of our readers, pointed out: “In the north, of course, wood is stacked teepee-style vertically, in order for it to dry out well, and be easily accessible in deep winter – not possible if it was laid onthe ground horizontally”.
    The description which will be easily understood by Northern readers, may be somewhat confusing for the Southern ones. To eliminate all doubts, I thought I would take this opportunity to show you where the remains are kept. So, here is a short video produced in 2012 by Universcience entitled Visite des collections d’anthropologie du Musée de l’Homme (Visit to the anthropological collection of the Musée de l’Homme). It will allow you to see the reserves section of the museum where the remains are kept.  The first 22 seconds of the video are the ones of interest. The rows of grey boxes that you see at the beginning of the video represents the collection of 18,000 skulls. Paingu’s skullcap is in one of these boxes. As for the skeletons of Abraham, Ulrike, Tobias and Tigianniak, they are part of the mounted skeletons which can be seen from 00:13 to 00:22. The skeletons are kept in a standing position protected by a plastic cover. There is no stacking involved. The Arctic in Context version was changed to say “he saw the human remains of these individuals, kept in standing positions.
  •  In the first paragaph of the article it is stated that Abraham accepted an offer “to move his family to Europe.” In my mind, the verb “move” implies a long-term commitment, in other words, we’re saying that Abraham was emigrating to Europe. This is not the case. Abraham expected to be gone only for one year. He was to return to Hebron the following summer.The Arctic in Context version was changed to say that Abraham accepted an offer “to be exhibited in an ethnographic show in Europe for a year.
  •  In the third paragraph, it is stated  that Abraham “had likely heard stories of Inuit who had travelled to Europe”. I asked for the word “likely” to be removed as it is a known fact that Johan Adrian Jacobsen used the example of the six Greenlanders he had recruited in 1877 as an argument to convince the Labrador Inuit to head to Europe with him. On the day the Inuit left Hebron, Brother Kretschmer, one of the Moravian missionary who tried to convince Abraham not to go to Europe, wrote the following : “The fact that the Eskimo know that Greenlanders were in Germany three years ago also added much to make such a visit desirable.”
  • In the third paragraph, it is stated  that “the idea of a regular wage likely appealed to him.”  In one of his letters to Moravian missionary Elsner, Abraham explains very clearly his reasons for accepting to go to Europe. He wrote: “… because I was in deep misery, I often prayed to God to help me to free myself from this and to hear my sighs, because I even wasn’t able anymore to take care of my relatives, which I was ususally able to do … But as I was in doubt to pay all my and my late father’s debts from kayaking, I thought (at this chance) to collect some money for discharging them. … Then I thought: Our way is destined by the Lord. We all cried a lot, my wife, I, and our relatives; but none of them wanted to hold us back. This way we took our decision before the Lord”. The Arctic in Context version was changed to say that Abraham “took this monetary opportunity as a sign from God, which would allow him to improve his family’s living conditions.
  • In the third paragraph, it is stated that Abraham “had possibly heard much about Europe from missionaries in his community.” I asked for the word “possibly” to be removed as it is a known fact that Inuit in Hebron were taught world geography by the Moravian missionaries. In 1880, they had access to geography textbooks written in Inuktitut. In his letter to Moravian missionary Elsner, Abraham writes: “I remember to have wished to see Europe and some of the communities over there for a long time.”
  • In the fifth paragraph, Tobias is identified as coming from Nachvak. Tobias was a Christian from Hebron. During the entire European journey, he stayed with Abraham and his family. The Arctic in Context version says “Several other Inuit made the journey—a single man from Hebron named Tobias, 20, another family from Nachvak, Tigianniak, 45, his wife Paingu, 50, and their daughter Nuggasak, 15.”
  • In the third paragraph of page 36, it is stated that the museum would not dispute a request for repatriation. In my opinion, it is important to mention the reason why they would not dispute such a request: because the remains have an identity. The museum’s policy is to oppose all requests for repatriation of anonymous remains, but to accept the ones for identified remains. The Arctic in Context version was changed to say “He explained that, since the remains have an identity, the museum would not dispute a request for repatriation.”
  •  Johannes’ trip to Europe to retrace Abraham’s footsteps was made possible by the filming of the documentary, Trapped in a Human Zoo. The article shows several photos of the filming, but the text actually is silent about how this documentary film came about. The World Policy Institue editorial team therefore suggested that we add a paragraph to explain. The following paragraph was included in Arctic in Context version right after the one where it is stated that, for three years, I researched the story to provide the decision makers with a comprehensive picture of the past events: “Along the way, film producer Roch Brunette (Pix3 Films), heard about Abraham’s story and my research through a local newspaper article published in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Intrigued, he got in touch with me. A year later, he had gathered the support of Canadian TV broadcasters as well as the required financing to start filming a documentary, Trapped in a Human Zoo. As part of my participation in the documentary, I traveled with Johannes Lampe to Hamburg, Berlin, and Paris to retrace Abraham’s footsteps.”
  •  Finally, in the last paragraph, it is stated that the Nunatsiavut Government is “in the process of trying to identify living descendants of the Ulrikab family.” The Arctic in Context version says “The Nunatsiavut government is currently in the process of defining its repatriation policy, and trying to identify any living descendants of Abraham’s and Tigianniak’s families.” Nunatsiavut’s repatriation policy is the major step that will eventually lead to the repatriation request being issued. Therefore, in order to give an accurate picture of the steps currently being undertaken by NG, I felt that it had to be mentioned.As for the search for descendants, as far as I know, there are no families with the “Ulrikab” surname. Back in Abraham’s days, Labrador Inuit did not have a surname. In order to distinguish individuals with the same first names, they would append their spouse’s first name. So, Ulrikab simply means “husband of Ulrike”. Also, my understanding is that the Nunatsiavut Government is looking for living descendants of all adults who died in Europe, but that said, they know that the likelihood of finding any written proof linking the members of the heathen family to living individuals is slim.

Hopefully these few notes will prove useful in getting a clearer understanding of Abraham’s story.

Thank you to the editorial team of Inuktitut magazine for their interest in Abraham’s story, for their time and efforts in translating it and making it look so attractive, and most of all, for this unique opportunity to bring the story to the attention of all Inuit families in Canada and beyond.

Thank you to Erica Dingman, Director of Arctic in Context, for noticing the article, for initiating the request to reprint it, and for this opportunity to reach a new audience. Thanks also go to the editorial team for their time and suggestions/advice as the various iterations of revisions were going back and forth.

If there are aspects of the story that are not clear,  or if anyone has questions, don’t hesitate to send them my way.

Thanks for reading! Have a great day!
France Rivet

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