Remains of Abraham Ulrikab may be returned to Labrador

After over a century, the remains of Abraham Ulrikab, an Inuit man who died in a human zoo in Germany, are one step closer to returning home to Canada.

Ulrikab kept diary of his time in Europe in Inuktitut, died of smallpox

Abraham Ulrikab left Labrador with his family in the late 1800s, travelling across Europe as part of a human zoo. The Nunatsiavut government is currently consulting with Labrador Inuit on whether to bring his remains back to Canada. (Polar Horizons)

An Inuit man who died more than a century ago is one step closer to returning home, as the Nunatsiavut government looks at ways to bring the remains of Abraham Ulrikab back to Labrador.

In 1880, Ulrikab and his family were brought to Hamburg, Germany, as part of a human zoo — one of many Nunatsiavummiut families enticed away from their homes in the late 19th and early 20th century. While abroad in Europe, the entire family died of smallpox.

"It's a story all Inuit are interested in, and a sad story," says Dave Lough, Nunatsiavut's Deputy Minister of Culture. "We're looking at this particular case, of Abraham... It's complex and it involves a number of issues."

While in Europe, Ulrikab kept a journal in his native language of Inuktitut. The diary revealed that weeks after arriving, Ulrikab and his family expressed a desire to return home to Labrador. 

The whereabouts of Ulrikab's remains were unknown until 2014, when writer France Rivet determined that they were in the French Natural History Museum, in Paris, during research for her book, In the footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab.

Museum Collections Director Michel Guiraud says that they stand at the ready to return the remains of Ulrikab to the Labrador Inuit, and the Canadian and French governments have said they will assist. 

First, however, the Nunatisavut government will hold public consultations on whether to bring the remains home. Lough says those consultations will include speaking with Ulrikab's living relatives.

"It's important the communities be consulted," says Lough. "And make a decision as to what is in the best interests of the families and Labrador Inuit."

The consultations should be done by September, says Lough, but he says whatever the outcome, the Nunatsiavut Government has one goal:  "To rectify those wrongs, and bring closure to some sad stories."