CamBay seeks museum to house treasure-trove of artifacts

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society is planning a major archaeological dig at the Ekalluk River near Cambridge Bay, but there’s no suitable facility in the community to store archaeological finds.


IQALUIT — The upcoming excavation of a rich archeological site near Cambridge Bay promises to deliver many priceless artifacts.
But unless the Kitikmeot Heritage Society is successful in its bid for a new cultural centre, there won’t be any place to study, store or even exhibit the findings in the community.

The group is lobbying for a modest, 200-square metre addition to the new May Hakongak Library to give the facility a larger role as a multi-purpose cultural centre and museum.

But this addition will cost $500,000, and there’s no guarantee that the Nunavut government can or will invest money in the project.

“That’s why not many communities have museums,” said the society’s president, Kim Crockatt.

But she said members of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, formed in 1995, won’t easily be deterred from their goal of building a museum in Cambridge Bay.

Comprised mainly of elders, this group supports activities that promote the region’s history, culture and language.

Since its establishment in 1995, the Kitikmeot Heritage Society has gathered oral history and archeological evidence on the Kuukyuakmiut or Perry River people and about Mount Pelly. The society also commissioned 20 stencil prints by Elsie Klengenberg that were used in a film documentary on the legend of Uvajuq.

The society has also produced locally published stories and posters for students in Inuinnaqtun.

Major dig at Iqalluqtuuq

Next summer, the group’s members plan to tackle their most ambitious project to date, the excavation of the Iqalluqtuuq area.

Its sites are located along the Ekalluk River, about 50 kilometers from Cambridge Bay. According to elder Frank Analok, the sites lie in one of the oldest traditionally occupied areas that he’s aware of.

Elders wanted to find a way to conserve these ancient sites, because they’re concerned that erosion along the banks is sending many delicate artifacts into the river.

Max Friesen, an archeologist at the University of Toronto, said there are still at least 28 separate sites along the river, reflecting every period of human history in the Arctic from pre-Dorset to Thule over the past 4000 years.

Among the spectacular remains of these occupations are two Dorset longhouses that are about 1000 or more years old. Huge constructions, 38 metres long by 5 metres wide, they could have sheltered as many as 100 people each.

Friesen said the caribou drive system along the river is thought to be the most complex — and most ancient — in the Arctic.

There is also a large quantity of animal bones, which should allow researchers to reconstruct the diet of the people who lived and hunted there.

Last year elders from the Kitikmeot Heritage Society took Friesen to Ekalluk River to scout out the area and discuss their plans to excavate it.

Friesen said excavation of all 28 sites in the area could take at least five years.

Field camp

Next summer there are plans to set up a field camp in which elders, youth from Cambridge Bay, and students from the University of Toronto will work together on researching and excavating the sites.

“This is going to be an equal partnership,” Friesen said.

In addition to the retrieval of material, next summer’s work will also provide language immersion in Inuinnaqtun for the younger participants. The resulting visual records of their summer’s experience will be transformed into books, posters and other language-learning materials.

“The summer project has a life of its own,” said Crockatt. “The big fight will be to see that we get the funding for the cultural centre.”

Nunavut’s fledging department of communications, culture and language has been supportive of the project, but, to date, there has no official program or policy for museum development in Nunavut.

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