FEATURES: Nunavut July 11, 2018 - 7:40 am

Gjoa Haven Inuit ready to keep watch over national historic site

Betty Kogvik adds to her family stories as Franklin guardian


Betty Kogvik’s mother was raised near Terror Bay, where her grandfather worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

This summer the Gjoa Haven woman will visit that bay in her newfound role as a guardian of the ill-fated Franklin shipwrecks, the HMS Erebus and Terror, which rest roughly 125 km outside her western Nunavut community.

“I’m planning to go so I can see where my mom was raised,” Kogvik told Nunatsiaq News.

While there, she’ll be living at one of two basecamps, and patrolling on the water the HMS Terror wreck site as part of one of four Inuit guardian groups hired by Parks Canada to watch over the twin wrecks that make up a national historic site. 

That’s after 21 Gjoa Haven residents took part in training earlier this spring for what was the second year of the guardian project run by Parks Canada, as recommended by a Franklin Interim Advisory Committee.

That committee is managing the historic site until an Inuit impact and benefit agreement is fully negotiated between the federal government and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

Kogvik, also a Canadian Ranger, is the only female guardian.

“I’m excited for my community to be involved in this,” Kogvik said. “It’s good for the community.”

After two weeks of training, participants who completed the program are now certified in how to operate a small vessel, how to keep safe on that vessel and to communicate using a marine radio. Those certifications are good for life, and the group now also has updated first aid certification.

There will be a second training period for guardians in early August.

“There’s been a lot of capacity building because of the training. We’re extremely proud about that,” said Tamara Tarasoff, project manager of the Franklin historic site. “We know it can be dangerous travelling in a marine environment. We’re confident that the guardians will all have the skills to keep themselves safe.”

This is the first national historic site to be co-managed by Parks Canada and Inuit in Nunavut. 

“There’s a lot of pride associated with the guardian program,” Tarasoff said. “We have no other national historic sites like this.” 

Besides patrolling, the guardians are also meant to share Inuit knowledge, and continue telling the Franklin story from the place where it all started, she said. 

Each guardian team, made up of a leader, a youth and two other members, will spend two-week shifts sharing a 24-7 patrol where they will report any unauthorized vessels.

This patrol will go on until the end of the open water season.

Right now, only Parks Canada’s underwater archeology teams and one adventure cruise vessel have permits to enter the sites.

While she was happy to receive the training, for Kogvik, working as a guardian is already in her wheelhouse.

“Growing up we were always going out on the land,” she said. When her parents would leave camp to go back to town, she would always ask to stay with other family so she could spend more time outdoors.

And, besides her mother having grown up near Terror Bay, Kogvik has a more recent connection to the Franklin wrecks.

“The one that pointed out the Terror ship was my husband,” Kogvik said, meaning Sammy Kogvik who in 2016 alerted Franklin wreck searchers to a place that turned out to be the Terror wreck site.

Still, Betty said she had to hear about that find from others aboard the research vessel Martin Bergmann, before she believed her husband helped find the wreck. 

“When I found out about it, I didn’t trust him, because he teases a lot. He jokes around a lot, he loves making people laugh,” she said.

As for herself, she loves to take on new challenges, and meet new people. That’s what drew her to the guardian program. 

When Kogvik spoke with Nunatsiaq News, she was just finishing a trip to Toronto, where she spoke about the role of Inuit knowledge in the guardian program during a Franklin symposium held at the Royal Ontario Museum.

One story she told was shared with her by her father, who learned the story from his grandmother. The tale was about early encounters between Inuit and presumably European explorers who came looking for food. 

“She used to hear stories about it,” Kogvik said of her father’s grandmother. “She said when white people went to an Inuit camp they used to ask for food and water. After that they never saw them again.”

Kogvik imagines an elder meeting a southerner for the first time, and Inuit communicating with their English-speaking guests through hand signs, while they share tea. 

“My dad told me about it. That’s the one that really touches me,” she said. “In my family, we welcome anybody from the south. If you want to come for tea, come and drink tea with me.”

When she finished telling this same story at the ROM, everyone clapped.