Management of Franklin wrecks goes to inuit organizations | Polarjournal
The start of the reappraisal of the history surrounding the Franklin expedition was made in 2014 with the discovery of HMS Erebus near the village of Gjoa Haven. Some artifacts are exhibited in the museum there. Image: Parks Canada

The discovery of the two shipwrecks HMS Erebus 2014 and HMS Terror 2016 of the lost Franklin expedition had caused an enormous stir. The sites were relatively quickly declared sites of national historical significance. As a result, Parks Canada and a interim committee were responsible for organizing and managing the archaeological processing of the finds on the one hand and managing the sites on the other. But that has now changed and has been transferred into the hands of regional inuit stakeholders.

In early March, Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guiltbeault and the president of the regional Inuit society Kitikmeot Inuit Association KIA signed an agreement that will place the management of the sites of the two wrecks in the hands of the region’s Inuit for the next ten years. At the same time, the KIA and the Nattilik Heritage Society NHS, which deals with the history and preservation of Inuit cultural heritage in the region, will receive more than 16.5 million US dollars to cover the costs of managing and operating the sites. The agreement thus marks a milestone in the cooperation between the state and the Inuit, as this is the first time that the management of such a place goes from the hands of the state to those of the indigenous people in the region. Minister Guiltbeault stated “With the signing of this progressive and innovative agreement, the Kitikmeot region Inuit will secure the ongoing conservation and management of the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site.”

Robert Greeney also praised the agreement: “This agreement is the result of a great, multi-year collaboration between the Inuit of the Kitikmeot region and the Canadian government,” he said. The agreement is the culmination of a longer process that should eventually transfer the rights and responsibilities of the spectacular finds to the region’s Inuit. After the wreck of HMS Erebus had been discovered and confirmed in 2014, measures had to be taken quickly to protect the site. Although it had already been determined in 1992 that the places should become sites of national historical significance when they were discovered. But it was only in 2015 that the Erebus was first added to the relevant list and thus protected by a national law. At the same time, thanks to an emergency provision of the Nunavut Agreement in consultation with Inuit representatives, the start had been given for the agreement now signed in March. As of 2018, it was decided that all artifacts from the two wrecks belonged to both the Canadian government and the Inuit. A year later, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Government of Canada and the Inuit Heritage Trust for further cooperation regarding the management, research and handling of the finds.

Local park guides tell visitors, usually on ships in the Northwest Passage, about the wrecks and their work. In the future, the sites should be incorporated into the tourism concept of the region. Image Kerry Raymond via Wikicommons

Previously, the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee was responsible for administration. This committee consists of representatives from Inuit communities, the KIA, government and the regional tourism industry. They also regulated access to the sites, which was generally prohibited and only possible with a permit. However, both the government and the Inuit representatives hope to be able to incorporate the two sites into a tourism concept in the future. “Guided by Inuit leadership, the establishment of this first operational national historic site of Canada in Nunavut will share the story of the Franklin expedition and the fate of its sailors across Canada and internationally,” KIA’s Robert Greeney says in response. “The wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site will be a window into our past and a gateway to an enhanced tourism offer for our region.”

And the NHS, which runs an information center and museum in Goa Haven, is sure that the two wrecks will not only help to enhance the region’s tourism. The sites and the artifacts should also play an important role for the own history and its understanding among the local population. “The Nattilik Heritage Centre is a meeting place for Inuit and visitors to learn more about Inuit culture, past explorers and the artifacts left behind,” says museum director Jacob Keanik. This is also necessary. For the Inuit of the region had witnessed the fate of the expedition members at first hand. Several reports from subsequent search parties describe how Inuit had come upon the expedition men and their remains. But the descriptions, which often painted a gruesome picture of the fate, were usually dismissed as untrue and fantasies of savages. But it was only thanks to information from the local Inuit that it was possible to discover the two wrecks and shed light on the history surrounding the Franklin expedition.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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