CanWest reporter distorted Qajartalik petroglyph story


Every single event in life should be the occasion to learn something new. I certainly learned an important lesson over the last few days after the publication of Randy Boswell’s article on Aug. 26, 2006 in several newspapers from the CanWest family.

The next time I am interviewed by journalists, I will make certain of their intentions before accepting.

This article concerned the recent damage at the Qajartalik petroglyphs, near Kangirsujuaq, Nunavik. The same news appeared a few days later in Nunatsiaq News in the Sept. 1 edition, and in an interview given last week by my colleague, Louis Gagnon, on CBC North.

Both described the current situation with the alleged damage at Qajartalik. I do not wish to expand on this issue until we are able to get to the site and assess directly the damage. Presently, I wish to rectify what has been presented in Randy Boswell’s article as an attack on a specific group of people accusing them for the alleged damage.

Part of this was also mentioned in Nunatsiaq News as rumours, but rumours prove nothing, and should remain unpublished until proof is brought forth. I feel it is my responsibility to rectify the present situation since it was my bringing the news of potential new damage at the site to public attention that caused all these accusations to come forth without justification.

My sole concern from the beginning was, is and will always be the fate of a unique archaeological site that remains until this day unrecognized and unprotected.

I was contacted by Randy Boswell concerning the petroglyphs site after he read an article by Jane George in Nunatsiaq News. One of my duties as chief archaeologist for Avataq Cultural Institute is to ensure that archaeological sites in Nunavik are respected and protected, and to take the necessary measures to identify persons who may have been misguided into damaging an archaeological site.

When Mr. Boswell asked me about the status of the petroglyphs, I responded that the official recognition was still pending, but that it became more and more urgent that this issue be solved once and for all, since I just had been informed that new damage appeared at the site.

However, we had no clue as to the extent of the damage and who were responsible for it, and we still don’t know. I then told him of the history surrounding the discoveries of the site in the 1960s, and the description the Catholic missionary of the time gave of the petroglyphs as reminiscent of “devil” faces.

Other events in the mid-1990s were also documented and published. One of these events, was a message in syllabics and defacing of some of the petroglyphs alerting to the “evilness!” of the place. I also mentioned that some individuals were reluctant to set foot on the island because they were told that the place was “evil.”

There was also more mundane damage, such as some graffiti left by teenagers who actually signed their initials on one of the soapstone panels. Soapstone quality testing (where one individual will take away small pieces to verify the quality of the rock) was until recently the most frequent and recurring damage to the site.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Boswell has taken upon himself to make the news instead of reporting it. The emphasis on the “religious” aspect of our conversation was but one single element of it, and it was mentioned only to put the site and its turbulent history into perspective. I would have much preferred that he emphasized the role of the federal government (or lack of it) in this case.

We have been working to have this site officially recognized for nearly 10 years now, and in all these years the federal government has not given any indication that they would follow up on their own original request dating back to 1994, when Avataq was mandated by Parks Canada to identify a Nunavik Inuit Commemoration Site.

The final recommendation, which included the Qajartalik site, was sent to Parks in the winter of 1997, where it was shelved until today. It was well known even then that the nature of the site and its fragility were impacting negatively on its long-term preservation.

The official reason for withholding the decision was that they did not know who the site would eventually belong to once the off-shore island negotiations were completed, as if these off-shore islands would not be Canadian territory after the negotiations were settled.

These negotiations are now completed and need only to be approved by the Nunavik Inuit in a referendum that will be held this coming November. Finally the “official” issue that was blocking the site’s official recognition was at an end.

Imagine our reactions, when we learned that the site might be damaged further. For me this is a much more relevant news to discuss than the angle Mr. Boswell decided to write about.

I do find regrettable that this has come out in this way. My intent has never been to blame innocent people, and I do apologize to the entire Nunavik population for this, and especially to the Kangirsujuammiut.

I hope that this note will correct some of the injustice that might have come out of the initial publication of the news, and that these recent discussions on the uncertain future of this site will help in having it officially recognized and protected.

Daniel Gendron
Avataq Cultural Institute

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