On Thursday, February 11th at 8 pm EST, CBC’s, The Nature of Things, will be airing a documentary about a troubling, yet fascinating story, a part of our history.
In 1880, two Inuit families from Hebron, in Labrador, Canada agreed to go to Europe to be exhibited in one of the many ‘human zoos’ or ethnographic shows, as they were called back then. The concept of a human zoo is an appalling one, but 130 years ago, a visit to a human zoo in Europe was an extremely popular thing. The idea was that Aboriginal people or ‘savages’, as they were horrendously referred to then, were brought from far off lands and put on display to provide so-called entertainment to the general public.
The eight Inuit who were brought from Labrador to Germany to be part of the exhibit met a tragic ending not long after arriving in Germany. Contrary to the law at the time, when these Inuit families arrived in Germany they were not vaccinated for smallpox. And having never been exposed to the disease, the Inuit succumbed, one by one. Less than four months after their arrival in Europe, both Inuit families had died from smallpox.It was thought that this was the end of the story. Until my good friend, France Rivet, became intrigued and wanted to find out the fate of these Inuit who sadly lost their lives in Germany. Thought self-funded research trips and a passion for investigation, France is writing the final chapter on this story. She discovered the whereabouts of the skeletal remains of the Inuit families who died in Germany. It is this story – her story of fascination and discovery – that is being told on this week’s episode of The Nature Of Things.
Despite being a tragic tale, it is a part of our history. To me, history is not just a record of the past, but also an opportunity to learn from experience. There is a saying that history repeats itself. But I hope that by learning from the tragedies of the past, our job is to ensure that history never repeats itself.
I hope you will tune in to watch this incredible documentary about France and her discoveries about this little known story. The story is about this final chapter being written, one which will likely come to close with the repatriation of the skeletal remains of these Labrador Inuit from the 1880’s. After 136 years, it’s finally time for them to come home.
This blog post is the first in a series about the story, In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab. I hope you’ll come back to read more, including my interview with France, telling her own story of discovery.