Monday, March 28, 2016

Meet Louie Kamookak: champion of the Inuit oral tradition

Wonderful to see that my friend Louie Kamookak -- Inuit historian, Franklin expert, and public speaker -- has set up a website (click here). I'm looking forward to catching Louie in Ottawa on April 12, where he will participate in a panel discussion about Franklin and the Inuit oral tradition. It will be hosted by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.  My own favorite story about Louie harks back to 1999. It starts with us beating south along the west coast of Boothia Peninsula in his motorboat. We were returning to Gjoa Haven after placing a plaque honoring  explorer John Rae. Louie said that, before we recrossed Rae Strait, he wanted to check out a spot he knew, where sometimes the hunting was good.  We entered a small bay, hauled the boat up onto a sandy beach, and climbed a ridge to scan the horizon. I saw nothing, but suddenly Louie said: “Caribou!” The animal must have been 120 yards away. Louie dropped to one knee, put his gun to his shoulder, and fired. Nothing happened. I thought he had missed. But then, the caribou dropped down dead where it stood. We raced across the tundra. Louie was jubilant: “Straight through the heart!” He skinned that animal, put the massive carcass on his back, and staggered with it back to the boat. “Meat will last all winter,” he said. And that's just a part of who Louie is. To the great tradition of Inuit explorers, adventurers, interpreters, and story-tellers -- a lineage that includes Eenoolooapik, Tattannoeck, Ouligbuck father and son, Tookoolito, and Ebierbing -- today we can add another name: Louie Kamookak.

Friday, March 18, 2016

We're voyaging Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. Are we excited yet?

Three Facebook friends from different corners of the world have drawn my attention to a call for presenters aboard a celebrity sailing in the Arctic. While I really do appreciate their thinking of me, this does make me wonder if I haven't made sufficient noise about how, this August, Sheena and I will be voyaging Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada.  We'll start in Greenland and sail north into Smith Sound (Elisha Kent Kane country) and then west, stopping at Beechey Island before pushing on to Winter Harbour, visited by William Edward Parry in 1819. Reaching that site will be a first in contemporary expedition cruising. And forget rolling and heaving across Davis Strait in one of those cramped and boxy old Russian tubs. We will sail aboard a supremely comfortable vessel, the Ocean Endeavour, which boasts comfortable cabins and no fewer than 20 zodiacs in which to zoom about. So, yes, we're excited about the travel itinerary and the ship. But above all, we are thrilled by the expert staffers (our fellows) who will be leading talks and workshops. We're talking Juno-award winning musician Susan Aglukark; archaeologist/ author Robert McGhee; culturalist/ author David Pelly; filmmaker John Houston; seabird biologist (and Canada Research Chair) Mark Mallory; photographer and wildlife biologist Dennis Minty; veteran Arctic explorer David Reid; field botanist Carolyn Mallory;  marine mammalogist Ree Brennin-Houston; and Inuit leader Tagak Curley -- yes, the man who appears in the docudrama based on my book Fatal Passage, and who, indeed, steals that particular show. Late last year (2015), I wrote (and evoked, through Sheena's photos and paintings) what one of these voyages is like. This year, we are happening August 26 to September 11. If you're thinking "Arctic," Adventure Canada is the way to to. Tell 'em Ken sent you.




Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Real Canadian can pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day

Gotta love a column by Peter Shawn Taylor that turned up today in the Waterloo Region Record -- one week in advance of St. Patrick's Day. Faithful readers will appreciate that I am a man without bias, ahem, but I do believe Taylor hits his stride when he invokes Celtic Lightning and, all right, paraphrases Our Hero. "With more than a quarter of Canadians tracing their ancestry back to Scotland or Ireland, McGoogan claims these ancient Celtic precepts were gradually inserted into our cultural DNA and have today come to define Canadians of all backgrounds. From this perspective, anyone who celebrates their Irishness on March 17 — whether genetically valid or not — is simply acknowledging the inherited meaning of Canada. McGoogan's theory thus offers some important lessons for those who attack Canada's history or feign outrage whenever anyone "appropriates" the symbols of their ancestors.
"The striking lack of complaints from Irish voices over the culture appropriation of St. Patrick's Day — particularly when the popular stereotype tends to emphasize drinking, fighting and swearing — reflects those admirable Celtic attitudes of good cheer, open-mindedness and inclusivity. All are welcome to join in the fun. Surely that's healthier than shouting "racism" at the drop of a hat.
"Every culture should similarly seek to define itself on the basis of accomplishment and aspiration as opposed to victimhood. Those many waves of Scottish and Irish peasants faced plenty of discrimination, poverty, marginalization, colonialism and hardship when making their way to Canada. As McGoogan points out, Sir John A. Macdonald, the father of Confederation, was a third-generation refugee whose family was evicted during the Highland Clearances of the 1700s. And while religious strife was once a defining characteristic of Ireland and Scotland, any sectarian connotation to St. Patrick's Day (or Robbie Burns Day for that matter) has long since been swept away by an all-embracing Canadian mosaic. It is the party that remains.
"If you want to know what it means to be Canadian, just pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day."
You can read the whole column by clicking here. Go ahead. You know you want to!