Thursday, June 30, 2011

White Snow and Red Tape

Every government has its bureaucracy, and to rail against them collectively would be absurd. All the same, for those of us who celebrated the creation of Nunavut in 1999, it's disappointing to find that the territorial government's bureaucracy can be just as complicated and slow-moving as any office in Ottawa. Good intentions for Inuit cultural self-determination have been translated into regulations, and in some cases the process has ended up delaying or defeating even the kinds of historical or archaeological research that have the support of local Inuit communities and elders.

As Ron Carlson has explained on his blog, the process for applying for any kind of archaeological work in Nunavut is particularly labyrinthine. One has to have one's request signed off on by a wide array of interested parties, including local Inuit hamlets in the vicinity of the proposed work. Mr. Carlson, to his great credit, has taken the process seriously, working closely with local Inuit leaders, and taking care to provide all the requested information. Since his project, which proposes taking aerial photographs using a thermal camera, is totally non-intrusive, one would think that approving it would be a straightforward matter -- but this is far from true. Nunavut's regulations are very strict -- even taking an ordinary photograph of a possible archaeological site without a permit -- as Bear Grylls' team did last summer -- is technically illegal. In Carlson's case, he satisfied all the various entities who had to sign off on his proposal, and had the support of the Hamlets as well -- and yet his permit was denied. The reason given was his lack of archaeological qualifications! Now, if his proposal involved putting spade into soil, or even a foot upon the ground, that would be understandable, but in this case, I personally feel the rationale borders on the absurd. His proposed search is totally without impact on the ground, undertaken at his own expense, and would produce data which he would share with any and all professional archaeologists an scholars who were interested -- a great many of whom have not the means to get up to King William Island -- and they would have been enormously grateful (I know I would). And yet, apparently, unless he can locate an archaeologist to sit in the passenger seat, this potentially valuable research won't be allowed.

Ron, to his credit, plays absolutely by the book, and he hopes to return next year with the support and/or presence of qualified archaeologists. But it's a real shame that the government of Nunavut has not seen fit to approve this year's search, which I know all of us here were very hopeful could shed new light on the Franklin mystery. Fortunately, Franklinites are very patient people -- we certainly wish Ron the best and I know we'll be there to support, and to follow, his proposed mission next year.


  1. This is insane. Something like this simply defies rational explanation. I've read Ron's blog and the comments posted and I have to agree with the way he is handling it, though; better to accept the decision and do what you can than risk making the bureaucracy shift from neutral to actively working against you. It's still a damn shame, and it angers me!

  2. Heartbreaking! Completely agree with your assessment. I feel very strongly about indigenous people's rights, but the Franklin Expedition is a part of Inuit history as well, and while there may certainly be mixed or negative feelings about their early contacts, it still seems useful and meaningful to know. The Franklin community has such high standards for archeological research, so hopefully with time and following the rules, there will be more flexibility. As you note, we are's been over 160 years! Thanks for the update, and I'm so sorry for Ron Carlson.

  3. I didn't phrase my previous comment well or mean to imply that Inuit folks are uninterested or are responsible for any of the problems--that's CLEY who is holding back access to a part of Inuit history as well.

  4. Thanks for posting this update Russell.

    I expected Ron's permit to be denied. This is based on the same being done to Rob Rondeau and other would be explorers. My guess is that most of the local Inuit are not against these kinds of searches. We know that there are Franklinites in Gjoa Haven. It appears (at least to me) that the authorites believe only a select few government-funded, highly qualified, archaeologists should be allowed to conduct any searches. It is also possible they may have some legitimate fears. Recall the guy from the US who took Inuit bones home and then mailed them to Dr. Owen Beatie. If such fears are part of the reason for denial it would be nice to know.

    Such roadblocks are counterproductive. A lot was found in the 1990s. Search teams were able to take pictures back to the authorities and in some cases remains believed to be those of Franklin's men were placed in metal containers. I would like to know if the remains located on the Todd Islets / Keeuna have at least been protected in some way. It would be great peace of mind to know that they are not being sandblasted away to nothing. There may be quite a few surprises in those bones. For such an investigation I would expect they would require a forensic anthropologist at the least as would and should be required for any graves located near Victory Point. What Ron is trying to do is find such remains so they can be properly preserved and investigated. The same can be said for the ships themselves. They need to be found so the long and carefully controlled process of investigation can start.

  5. Nice distillation of the problem. The provincial government is clearly trying to guard the treasure, as it were, against those who would exploit, but at the same time they have erected roadblocks that impede the well-intentioned. Were Ron to return next year--again, at great expense--with a qualified archeologist--that would be great news for all of us, but at the same time, I feel I'm watching the archetypal machinations of U.S. political posturing writ large.

    Well, we'll all be here next year. Kudos to Ron for stepping off the edge of the pool in ways none of us could have envisioned or afforded. Before Canada calves another province out of the Labrador, let's hope they retain some more reasoned and rational 'crats to guard & protect.

    Ron should openly and shamelessly solicit donations to support his efforts. Might buy a tank of gas..... It's all very well for us to sit in the comfort of our dens & libraries watching/reading his progress/posts, but at the same time he's living the dream for all of us armchair (fill in the blank).

    BTW, just back from Lans aux Meadows, NL. Spectacular. The economic gains of the people of the Northern Peninsula are extraordinary since I was last there. Long live labor flights from St. Anthony to Alberta, I guess. Those houses rival those of the U.S. in square footage. I was blown away.... No longer are they tethering their houses to the bedrock.