From the Editor
Canadian Inuit Dogs I have owned, raised and trained: a photo essay; Part 3
Book review: Across Arctic America
Book review: White Eskimo
Interview with Author Stephen Bown
The Thule Atlas Project
March distemper outbreak in Ilulissat
Okpik’s Dream/Harry Okpik still going strong
IMHO: I’m “Neat” with Tarps
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The Fifth Thule Expedition Atlas Project
His father Danish and his mother Inuit-Danish, Knud Rasmussen spent his youth in Ilulissat, Greenland learning to speak Kalaallisut, to drive dogs (from the age of eight years), to hunt with his Inuit companions and to live in the challenging polar climate.
He participated in the Danish Literary Expedition to the northernmost inhabitants in Greenland at the age of twenty-three. At thirty-three he embarked on the first of seven expeditions he organized. The most well-known of these, recognized as his greatest accomplishment, was the “Fifth Thule Expedition – Danish Ethnographical Expedition to Arctic North America, 1921-1924”, during which Rasmussen traveled from Greenland to western Alaska with both Danes and Greenlander companions; 20,000 miles of wandering by dog team.
With his traditional dress, native language and dog driving skills, it is no surprise that Greenlanders as well as Inuit he encountered in Arctic Canada and Alaska often accepted him as one of their own, warmly welcoming him into their camps, sharing the intimate details of their family lives. Patiently and respectfully, Rasmussen and his colleagues collected volumes of social and biological data, personal interviews, oral history and traditions, maps, place names, stories, songs and poetry and an enormous quantity of artifacts.
The Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, a ten-volume publication resulting from this ethnographic and archaeological venture, along with thousands of precious objects gathered, currently reside under the watchful care of the Danish National Museum.
Since 2014, the Kitikmeot Heritage Society (KHS), has undertaken the gargantuan task of digitizing the results of Rasmussen’s Fifth Thule Expedition. Two months ago, the first round of material went online as the Fifth Thule Expedition Atlas website.
The Fan Hitch is enormously grateful to KHS Executive Director Pamela Gross and KHS Senior Researcher Darren Keith for their willingness to be interviewed about their project and its significance, and to KHS Research Associate Brendan Griebel for granting permission to use his photographs.
Darren Keith (center) and Pamela Gross (right) work with
National Museum of Denmark’s staff to identify Inuit in historic
photos taken during the Fifth Thule Expedition.
Interview with KHS Senior Researcher Darren Keith April 29, 2016
TFH: Whose idea was this anyhow?
DK: I guess it was mine. I don’t know if you‘ve ever looked at any of the old reports from the expedition from the 1920s and so on.
TFH: I’ve never had access to those originals. Don’t think I could afford to own the set.
DK: That’s exactly the point. If somebody like yourself doesn’t have access to it, just imagine that Inuit don’t have access to it. What’s been published is often inaccessible, and there’s a whole bunch that has not been published including all the physical material Rasmussen collected in the thousands that is in Denmark. So the purpose of our project, our main message, our reason for doing it is to virtually import, digitally return that material, when we talk about that knowledge, back to Inuit.
TFH: The enormity of the project is just so daunting.
DK: Well, we’re trying to think about it over the next three years. Our goal is to have this project up and be a fully populated website by 2021, the year marking the one-hundredth anniversary of the 1921 beginning of the Fifth Thule Expedition.
TFH: Wow! Not too far off.
DK: No, not really.
TFH: Did you approach the Danish National Museum and were they receptive to this?
DK: We actually went to visit them last November. We had a week’s worth of meetings with them and visited their facility. At the end they announced that they’re our partners, because we’d like to make available all the physical items that were collected like the ethnographic items, everything from clothing to kayaks, bows and arrows and I suppose you’d call them religious items; have all those digitally photographed and available on line on our site.
TFH: I guess they were relieved that you didn’t demand that those artifacts be returned to their country of origin.
DK: Yes they were. But at the same time the way I look at it and the way we’re looking at it as an organization is that in Nunavut we don’t have the capacity to actually take care of those things. So we’re really happy in fact. I think it is quite a gift to future generations that the Danes have spent tons and tons of their money to have taken care of these pieces which are now priceless to Inuit. They can continue doing that and we praise them for doing so. But if we can share it digitally-virtually, I think that’s going to be a wealth of knowledge for Inuit.
TFH: That sounds like the best of both worlds!
TFH: I see the website has an oral history link. Will that include some of the poetry, stories and music Rasmussen collected?
DK: Yes, all of that is accessible through those tiles and clicking on them will point you to report pages which will take you to the report page with the story on it for now. A bunch of the stories were transcribed in Inuktitut and Greenlandic orthography so we have a project for which we are trying to get some financing to re-transcribe into modern Inuktitut.
TFH: I read somewhere that there’s some video footage on the website?
DK: Yes we have relevant clips from film that the Expedition shot in the Kent Peninsula area in the winter of 1923/24. It’s all ready to go. Remember when you were looking at the site there were the tiles along the bottom? The film will be one of them. So the film will be an the options. All we have to do is turn it on. But I wanted to make sure we were all clear on the rights issues. Just this morning thought it was resolved. I got a phone call and an email from the Danish Film Institute saying that as far as they’re concerned there is no issue in a non-commercial way. They’re not going to charge us any money. And they feel there isn’t an existing copyright issue. But we talked about the fact that the beginning of the film – they’re actually calling it footage – indicates it is tied together between the Danish Film Institute and Netherlands Film Institute so the person I was talking to recommended that I also talk to the Dutch to make sure they’re OK with it and that I was to pass along that the Danish Film Institute has no objection and is not charging anything.
For Inuit Dog enthusiasts, it was a heroic and epic undertaking. There were three expedition members that travelled from Hudson’s Bay to Alaska by dog team over a couple of years.
TFH: So are you going to upload excerpts or all the footage?
DK: It’s a good chunk but it is only the first few minutes that show our area, Cambridge Bay. There’s a lot of footage that isn’t relevant to the area we’re covering, but what is going to be included is incredible.
TFH: Didn’t Rasmussen indicate all his travels covered 20,000 miles by dog team from Greenland to Alaska and into Siberia?
DK: I don’t know how he added that up. But if you look on the website at the map of his route, it’s impressive enough. I don’t really need a number when I look at the map and I see the line traced across it, an incredible journey. The thing about it is they didn’t have that much in terms of supplies so they really lived off the land a lot.
TFH: Yes, and just looking at a line across a map doesn’t begin to tell the story of the character and challenges of the terrain that had to be traversed.
So the website is now up and functional but it is going to be evolving over the next three years, right?
DK: Oh Yes!
Pamela Gross locates some pictures of an ancestor in the
Danish National Museum’s archive of Fifth Thule photographs.
Interview with KHS Executive Director Pamela Gross April 13, 2016
TFH: Darren said you had a personal connection with the 5th Thule Expedition.
PG: I had heard that I could be related to Knud Rasmussen or one of the members of his expedition, but I’m still searching for that answer. I know he did come across my ancestors. As the project works with the family tree side of things, we’ll be able to answer some of those questions we might have. Knud Rasmussen did some really extensive work in regards to naming, right down to the names that people were given in their Innuinaqtun names. That was very interesting to see my family members’ names in his book, my grandfather and my grandmother and what their Innuinaqtun names actually mean. So that was really exciting. The naming part [of the project] actually has connections to Inuit in today’s society because names are a very important way of remembering family and remembering loved ones.
TFH: So that’s going to be one of the focuses of this project?
PG: With the [Cambridge Bay] community, yes. We’ll be focusing on identifying people and connecting them to their ancestors because Knud Rasmussen did a pretty large ethnographic study of the people so we’re able to use that information and transfer some knowledge that might not be known in today’s society about certain people and family members or what names meant or things that might have gotten lost over the years.
TFH: It’s great that 92 years after Knud Rasmussen documented material as a result of his Fifth Thule Expedition, that information is today considered a valuable resource.
PG: It is amazing that we’re able to put a lot of focus and attention on this atlas project. It might not seem as though the community really knows about it. Once the website is launched there will be a lot more focus and hopefully more attention on it, and will be available to use as a resource, but right now it’s still in the initial stages.
TFH: The Fifth Thule Atlas is only one part of the project, yes?
PG: Yes. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The groundbreaking work, the initial stages and the connections with the museum in Denmark and all of the digitizing being done behind the scenes and pinpointing people and locations on the atlas, will be a really wonderful tool for everybody to use and to learn more about the history of the area.
TFH: Is this project focusing on the Cambridge Bay area or will it include all the regions Rasmussen visited?
PG: Right now we’re focusing on the Cambridge Bay area, but we will expand, going further into the other areas Rasmussen travelled as well.
TFG: Have you seen the video Rasmussen made?
PG: Some of that, yes. We also have some previously unseen footage from the National Museum of Denmark and that will be on the atlas website as well.
The atlas website will also have some really intricate paths that can be followed. For example photos that can connect you to a search engine for more details about a particular image with references to the Fifth Thule Expedition.
TFH: It sounds like there is really no end date of this Atlas project, that it will be continually developing for a long time.
PG: The resources Rasmussen provided will always be useful for Inuit so there are no borders with this project for now. It is an open project. It will be useful information forever.
The Kitikmeot Heritage Society’s Pamela Gross with artifacts from
the Fifth Thule Expedition at the National Museum of Denmark.
The Kitikmeot Heritage Society’s Fifth Thule Expedition Atlas Project will gratefully accept your financial support. To contribute to the Project please visit their home page.