An Inuit elder is opening up about the emotional experience of participating in a documentary about a group of Labrador Inuit who were shipped off to Europe in the late 1800s to be displayed in a zoo.

Johannes Lampe travelled to Europe with author France Rivet to trace the story of how Abraham Ulrikab and seven other Labrador Inuit ended up as specimens in a human zoo.

The documentary Trapped in a Human Zoo aired Thursday on CBC Television's The Nature of Things, and Lampe watched the program surrounded by close family and friends at his home in Nain.

The film documents how the Labrador Inuit were given the chance to see Europe in exchange for exhibiting their lifestyle, but when they arrived in France, they were put on display. 

Within four months of arriving in Europe, all eight were dead of smallpox.

Lampe said it was a heart wrenching experience to watch the film with his family present.

"I couldn't believe how sad and angry my family could feel," said Lampe.

"I thought I could do all this without being resentful or angry. So I compressed those thoughts and feelings."

"To see it coming from my family, I could see — It is real."

Based on diary

Trapped in a Human Zoo is based in part on journal entries written by Abraham Ulrikab while he was in Europe.

Lampe said he empathized with the journey that Ulrikab went through, and to feel and hear Europe as Ulrikab may have was quite emotional.

"I could feel that while I was trying to connect with the spirits and the emotions, that I did take on those thoughts and those feelings," he said.

One of the most heartbreaking moments of the film comes when Ulrikab, knowing that it's only a matter of time before he too succumbs to smallpox, has to leave his dying three-year-old daughter behind to go back on display in the zoo.

Lampe said hearing how Ulrikab faced this tragedy had an immense effect on his own life, and reminded him of the pain he felt when he lost his own daughter. 

"I know that people feel that it is so very hard to journey through life with grief and sadness and sorrow," he said.

"Abraham helped me to go through that, and to know that life goes on, and that we have to live our lives to the fullest."

Wants to repatriate remains to Labrador

While in Europe, Lampe was able to see the skeletons of the Labrador Inuit in a museum in France.

He said keeping remains in a museum is against the Inuit way.

He wants Ulrikab and the seven other Labrador Inuit brought back home where they belong. 

"In his diary, he said that he wanted to come back [to Hebron] and so that's where Abraham needs to be brought," said Lampe.

"I believe that family or descendants, and communities or country should do what they can to make that wish come true."