Guest post by Ossie Michelin
Arch research at Johannes Point, Summer 2016
Hundreds of years ago—in the late 1400s as Inuit spread east from the Western Arctic—groups made camp in what is now known as the Johannes Point on the north coast of Labrador. The point sits within the steep cliffs of barren rock that makes up Hebron Fjord. The deep inlet provides protection from the harsh weather of the Labrador Sea.
Few besides local Inuit have ever stepped foot inside the Hebron Fjord, but each year Adventure Canada passes by, brining visitors to this breathtaking location as part of its voyage up through the North Atlantic traveling between St. John’s and Greenland.
A traditional qulliq — photo courtesy of Tradition and Transition
Last summer, with the help of Adventure Canada’s and the Ocean Endeavour, archeologist Peter Whitridge and his team from Memorial University traveled to the remote fjord to study the archeological site. Whitridge is a researcher with the Tradition & Transition Research Partnership—a five-year research partnership between the Labrador Inuit, Memorial University, and many other partners—including Adventure Canada. The partnership aims to work with Inuit communities to protect, preserve, and promote Inuit culture and language—and to provide long lasting resources for the communities.
It is not hard to see why Inuit have been coming here for centuries. The area is abundant with wildlife and, to this day, remains a popular location for hunting, fishing, and harvesting. Many Inuit have cabins in the area and there were thriving Inuit settlements here until they were relocated in the mid-twentieth century.
The cold temperatures of the subarctic mean that many archeological remains left behind by early Inuit are remarkably preserved. For archeologists like Whitridge, the pre-European contact sites at Johannes Point can shed some light on what life was like for early Inuit in the region hundreds of years ago. “This site can show us an interesting part in the story of the Inuit peopling Northern Labrador,” says Whitridge. “We were at Johannes Point for about five weeks this past summer mapping a really interesting Inuit site, and excavating small test units next to a couple features, especially a pre-contact Inuit winter house.”
The weather conditions can make entering Hebron Fjord tricky for large parts of the year. When Whitridge and his team tried to embark from the Ocean Endeavour, ice had blocked their entry. It took multiple tries but the researchers finally made it ashore, and the ship continued on its way to further adventures in Greenland.
Adventure Canada brings visitors to the shores of Nunatsiavut each year. The entire area is steeped in history as Inuit lived, traveled, hunted, fished, and gathered all across the region for centuries. Because of this many of the visits include archeological sensitive areas. Michelle Davies is an archeologist with the Nunatsiavut Government, which represents the Labrador Inuit and PhD candidate at Memorial’s Department of Archaeology working with Tradition & Transition researcher Lisa Rankin. Davies traveled with Adventure Canada last summer to see how those policies unfold in the real world.
Arch Midden test at Johannes Point, Summer 2016 — photo courtesy of Tradition and Transition
“It was a great experience! It was pretty different from what you read in a report versus what is happening on the ground and what leads to certain decisions,” says Davies. “Even though I was working as the Nunatsiavut Government archeologist, I still gave a few lectures aboard and talked about the importance of archeology. I spoke about why it is important to protect this stuff and not to touch anything, and how to visit an archeological site appropriately, so that won’t be damaged over time.”
Davies says that ships like the Ocean Endeavour that bring visitors to Inuit communities have a lot of potential to boost the local economy and teach people from around the world about Labrador Inuit.
“Tourism is a growing industry in Labrador, as more ships and tours are coming in we really wanted to address this growing industry because it could potentially damage sites in the future if we don’t address it early on,” explains Davies. “I have to say that I was really impressed with the way that Adventure Canada approached us about this, and all the protections they had lined up and in place already.”
With partnerships like Tradition & Transition in place, Labrador Inuit, archeologists, and visitors can all make sure that the beauty and culture of the area are celebrated while making sure that history is preserved.
Ossie Michelin is a freelance journalist from North West River, Labrador. He grew up with his family going off on the land—hunting, trapping, fishing, and foraging. His heritage and upbringing instilled in him a lifelong love of the natural world—and of the Labrador environment in particular. He holds a BA in journalism from Concordia University and worked for five years with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, eventually helping them establish its first home-based bureau in Labrador.
Adventure Canada will visit Nunatsiavut again this season with the Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition from September 23rd to October 7th.