Documentary tackles role of Inuit in Franklin's ill-fated Arctic expedition
Descendant of Dickens apologizes to Nunavut historian in NFB piece by N.S. filmmaker
Last Updated: Monday, May 5, 2008 | 5:27 PM CT
A documentary that will air later this year is clearing up the Canadian Inuit's role in Sir John Franklin's 1845 attempt to discover the Northwest Passage.
Passage, a National Film Board documentary by Nova Scotia-based filmmaker John Walker, outlines the clash between Inuit oral history and European written history in describing how the British explorer and his crew of 128 men perished in the Arctic.
Actors Geraldine Alexander and Rick Roberts portray Lady Franklin and Dr. John Rae in dramatic portions of John Walker's film Passage. (Nance Ackerman/PTV Productions)The film, which was based on Canadian historian Ken McGoogan's 2001 biography Fatal Passage, tells the story of Scottish doctor John Rae, who travelled with Inuit through the Arctic after Franklin's disappearance to find out what happened.
"John Rae, from Orkney, Scotland, trusted and believed in the oral stories of the Inuit, and went back with those stories and defended the Inuit in public as not being liars and that they tell the truth," Walker told CBC News in an interview that aired Monday.
"However, you know, there was a clash between what's written and oral tradition. So that's sort of at the heart of this story."
Rae's report, released in 1851, sided with Inuit oral history and concluded that Franklin's crew descended into madness and cannibalism in the Arctic.
But Franklin's widow, Lady Franklin, launched a public counter-campaign with famous author Charles Dickens, claiming that Inuit killed the expedition crew.
Their version of events became the written history of what happened to Franklin and his crew, tarnishing the image of Canada's Inuit people.
Defends integrity of Inuit
In shooting Passage, Walker was joined by Nunavut MLA Tagak Curley, an Inuit oral historian who challenged the claims made by Dickens and Lady Franklin.
Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley, far right, with (left-right) interpreter Bernadette Dean, actor Rick Roberts and director John Walker during filming in Nunavut. (Alex Salter/PTV Productions)Walker said Curley accompanied him to Scotland and England, where he defended the integrity of Inuit.
"Tagak went back to the admiralty in London and addressed naval historians on what, where the truth lies in this story," Walker said.
"So we were able to, you know, to confront history as it were, and to set the record straight."
Curley also had a face-to-face meeting with the great-great-grandson of Dickens, who apologized on camera for what his author ancestor had done.
"Because it was a sincere apology and he had nothing to do with it, I had to accept his apology and told him that this was the beginning of the healing process with the whole tragic event," Curley said.
Passage made its world debut April 20 at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto. It is scheduled to air on the History Channel later this year.
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