Nunavut Complains That Federal Scientists Took Franklin Artifacts Without Permission

HMS Terror on ice, 1837

Nunavut Complains that Federal Scientists took Franklin Artifacts without Permission

The Nunavut Premier’s protest — in a letter directly to Justin Trudeau — adds ownership disputes to an archeological search already plagued by bad blood

By Tom Spears | June 23, 2017

Nunavut’s premier complained directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last fall that federal scientists took artifacts of the doomed Franklin Expedition — enough for a major museum exhibit — without permission. The artifacts recovered since HMS Erebus was found in 2014 cover a wide variety of well-preserved ship’s equipment and men’s personal belongings: part of the ship’s wheel, its bell, belaying pins, blue and white china plates, cups and saucers, a cannon, a sword hilt, a knife and a ceramic pot labelled “anchovy paste.” The complaint is in a formal letter from Premier Peter Taptuna, obtained by the Ottawa Citizen through an access-to-information request.

His protest adds ownership disputes to an archeological search already plagued by bad blood. Last summer private searchers discovered the wreck of one Franklin ship, HMS Terror, and didn’t tell their government search partners for a week. Nunavut considers the wreck site of HMS Erebus to be within its internal waters, giving ownership to the territory and to the Inuit Heritage Trust, the letter says. “Nevertheless, Parks Canada removed artifacts from HMS Erebus. “This was unfortunate and inconsistent with past practice.”

It says Parks Canada has abided by Nunavut’s regulations in a series of searches for the lost Franklin ships since 2002 “and has not claimed title in specimens until the discovery of HMS Erebus in 2014.” Yet at the same time, Parks Canada says the wreck is still British property. A summary also contained in the access-to-information package summarizes it this way: “As is the cases for HMS Erebus, title to the wreck and contents of HMS Terror remains with the United Kingdom. A 1997 Memorandum of Understanding specifies that upon discovery, the United Kingdom will transfer ownership of recovered artifacts to Canada, with specified exceptions.”

The Nunavut premier’s letter, sent just weeks after the discovery of Franklin’s second ship, Terror, adds that the premier expects Parks Canada officials to “consult and elaborate with our officials regarding the enforcement measures that will be employed at HMS Terror site…” And it complains that the private searchers from the Arctic Research Foundation were outside the approved search area. That doesn’t please the premier either: “As well, the finding of the HMS Terror seems to have been haphazard and not within the scope of the permits granted or the agreed-to search parameters.” …

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