A guest post by Lena Onalik. Photo by Michelle Valberg.
The Torngats: they call this place the land of the spirits, the place where Torngat, the spiritual entity of the Inuit people, rests. Along the shores you will see evidence of people before us, spanning thousands of years. You cannot help but feel their presence.
In Nachvak Fjord we tread lightly on the remains of a five hundred-year-old village, where the remnants of sod houses overlay the even older Paleoeskimo settlement. Millennia of human history lie here, outlasted only by the creatures that call this land home, and by the ancient rocks that tower above it all.
To the south is Ramah, where the beautiful translucent mineral known as chert received its name. This material was traded throughout the eastern seaboard, down into Maryland, to Ontario, and north into Nunavut. Shaped into magnificent tools used to hunt the local animals and seek out survival, the precious chert accompanied the burials of our ancestors.
At Hebron, the history dates back thousands of years, with the most recent inhabitants being the Moravian missionaries in the early 1800s. The community thrived, and the German missionaries the local Inuit living in harmony until 1959. When the Newfoundland government made the decision to close the town’s only store, the missionaries elected to pull out of Hebron. That same year, the Inuit were forced from their homes and faced a devastating relocation to the south. To this day, the atrocities endured by the Labrador Inuit are present in the lives they live. Looking out over the landscape, and visiting the graveyard with its German inscriptions, we will find the mission buildings and the church still standing, and the newly erected Apology Monument that recognizes and remembers those who were cast from their homes. Although there are no longer any human inhabitants, the Inuit of Nunatsiavut still hunt and fish the area. The spirit of our ancestors still walk the land, watching over us, and will live among us as we embrace this beautiful place. This place is for the curious.
When asked to join the Adventure Canada team on the Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition, my reaction was nothing short of ecstatic. To visit the stunning shores of Greenland was thirlling enough, but to share the home of my ancestors with curious minds is a great honour. On this journey of discovery, I shared a special moment when I travelled to the birthplace of my dearest friend, my late grandmother (Kangidsualujjuak). The spiritual presence at the Torngat Mountains is one that beckons again and again. Along along the beautiful, rugged coast there are stories to tell. Stories like that of Jacques Cartier, when he named this place, “the land God gave to Cain.”
Lena grew up in Makkovik, NL. She spent her summers during childhood fishing in Island Harbour with her father’s family, the McNeill clan, who also fished with Bob Bartlett’s family. Lena is an archaeologist, the first Labrador Inuk to obtain this title. She also held the position of Chief Archaeologist for the Nunatsiavut Government. She shares her culture through storytelling, crafts, singing, Inuit drum dancing and throat singing.
Our 2017 Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition sets sail on September 23.