Canada's healthcare system is primitive

Longing for Nunatsiavut

The far north of Labrador is considered to be one of the most rugged areas in the world. For the Inuit, however, the inhospitable country was home for thousands of years until they were forced to resettle. Now they are returning to the land of their ancestors. *

Cloudy, gloomy, magical: the Nunatsiavummiut call the Torngats the “seat of the ancestors”. And “beautiful, big country”. The names hit the nail on the head.

In the summer of 1880 Abraham Ulrikab became worried. His wife and two children gnaw on starvation. Hunting luck has left him, and he is deep in the chalk with the Moravian missionaries in Hebron. But then he meets Johan Adrien Jacobsen. The agent in the service of the menagerie operator Carl Hagenbeck asks the Inuit if he would like to demonstrate his traditional way of life for a year in his Völkerschau. After that he was rid of all worries. Abraham Ulrikab agrees and embarks with his family and four other Inuit for Hamburg. There they move into an enclosure in which they are gazed at by thousands of spectators every day. Soon they'll have enough of the noise and stench of the cities. They are homesick for Nunatsiavut. That means "beautiful land" in Inuktitut. During the following European tour, they contract smallpox and die one after the other. On January 16, 1881, in Paris, the last of the Inuit was also dead.

Johannes Lampe in front of the Torngasok Cultural Center in Nain. Its German name belongs to the region's past: the Moravian missionaries were active in the region until the 1950s.

Table of Contents

The sad story of Abraham Ulrikab

“I know how Abraham felt,” says Johannes Lampe. Lampe is president of the autonomous Inuit region Nunatsiavut and leads through the brand new Torngasok Cultural Center in Nain. In the spacious exhibition rooms, the rich culture of the Labrador Inuit, which also includes the story of Abraham, is presented. After the historian France Rivet found the remains of five of the eight Labrador Inuit in the Paris Museum of Natural History, Johannes Lampe, then Minister of Culture, familiarized herself with Abraham's story. He visited the zoos in Germany that had exhibited them, took a harbor tour in Hamburg to get a feel for what Abraham had seen first of Europe, researched archives and even met Carl Hagenbeck's descendants. The most moving and disturbing moment for the Inuit politician came in Paris. “Meeting the remains of Abraham and his family was like standing in front of my own parents or grandparents. I met my ancestors who taught me to hunt, fish, and survive. I know you. They made me who I am today. ”Since then, the Nunatsiavut Council of Elders has been campaigning for the eight to be returned to bury at home.

With Air Labrador from Happy Valley-Goose Bay via Nain to Saglek: Flight to the end of the world!

Is there more to come? In Happy Valley-Goose Bay these two nice gentlemen took care of our luggage.

Saglek Airport was built in 1954 and was part of the North American surveillance system NORAD. After the end of the Cold War, the buildings and hangars were left to their own devices. Only the runway is kept in good condition. And a radar station on the mountain behind. Tourists on the way to the base camp are escorted to the boats. Because of the polar bears.

You land three times in Labrador, and each time the feeling of approaching a strange planet becomes stronger: first in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, because the place with eight thousand souls swims like an island in a sea of ​​trees; then in Nain on the inhospitable Labrador Coast, because no sign of human presence was seen on the ninety-minute flight; and finally in Saglek, because from now on the world consists only of stone and knee-high greenery. As soon as the Twin Otter touches down between the steep gray mountains in Saglek, strong men with sunglasses step out of the shadows of abandoned buildings, some with rifles. Don't run around between the ruins, they purr, there could be polar bears. Then they load the luggage onto quads and rumble down to the dinghies.

Watch out, icebergs! In North Labrador, Greenland's floating drinking water tanks can be seen year round.

Base camp in sight: Our home for the next few days was a surprisingly luxurious affair with electricity and heating in all accommodations, showers and three meals a day. And above all with really nice hosts ..

As you can see .. :)

In Labrador: One of the oldest places in the world

Torngat Mountains Base Camp is another twenty wild minutes along the coast. In the shadow of the six hundred meter high coastal mountains, the boats have to take on each wave individually, that's how choppy the Labrador Sea is. Icebergs lie in bays, seals dozing on slabs of rock just above the surf. Labrador is also called "The Big Land", and here, on the northern tip of the pointed Labrador Peninsula and protected by the Torngat Mountains National Park, "Big Land" is greatest. Fjords cut twenty or thirty kilometers inland from the coast. Inlets such as Saglek and Nachvak Fjord offer spectacular views of almost a thousand meter high cliffs in one of the most rugged, eerie mountain landscapes in the world. For the Inuit of Labrador, the Torngat Mountains are Nunatsiavut, the land of their ancestors and the seat of powerful spirits. It fits in with the fact that the Great Land is one of the oldest on the planet. Geologists date the boulders to be 3.9 billion years old. They were formed just four hundred million years after the earth was formed and were already there when the atmosphere was filled with oxygen. That makes you humble. The overwhelming backdrop rearranges the priorities. The highest is now as simple as it is banal and means to arrive.

Shoes off, coat and hat on the hook: you can quickly understand various house rules, because the cafeteria that can be seen at the back quickly mutates into a living room!

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. And when the weather is bad and boats can't stop and helicopters can't fly, the cafeteria is the best place between Happy Valley and the North Pole!

When chefs have a few extra pounds on their ribs, it tastes even better. This also applies to Base Camp .. :)

The Torngat Mountains Base Camp is located at the end of Saglek Bay, in the lee of the mountains. “Welcome!” Says Parks Canada Superintendent Gary Baikie, beaming, and his windburned faces on his welcoming committee beam with them. Because the national park, which was founded in 2008, is jointly managed by Parks Canada and the Labrador Inuit, the park employees, from bear guides to senior park officials, are almost without exception Nunatsiavummiut. This is what the Labrador Inuit call themselves in their mother tongue, the Inuktitut. The joy and curiosity about new faces are real. “Our camp serves as a starting point for boat tours in the park and historical sites such as Ramah and Hebron,” explains Baikie. It is also a research station for scientists and - Baikie points to the helicopter standing by the storage shed - a base for search and rescue operations. In no time at all, suitcases and rucksacks can be reloaded and driven to the accommodation. There are tents and more comfortable, powered yurts and igloos made of green fiberglass. Meals are served in a cafeteria. A three meter high, ten thousand volt electric fence ensures that everyone can sleep well at night. Baikie, who is from Nain, smiles and nods towards the mountains. Erosion has left innumerable pockets and nicks on the slopes that the setting sun now fills with thousands of shades. “It's surreal to be able to work here and also to be paid for it. I love this country. "

Torngat Mountains National Park, North Arm: Move over, Grand Canyon & Co! Not a single trail defaces this protected area, no road, no parking spaces, no information center. The only way for tourists to get into the park is from the base camp. And that's a few miles out of town ..

Bear Guide Boonie Merkuratsuk values ​​the company of ancestors and spirits. As I listened to her, I remembered the story of a photographer friend. When he was walking alone in the Torngats, he heard a cheeky laugh behind him when he was changing lenses. He turned around - and saw no one. I told the story to Sofie (see below). She wasn't surprised. "That's when he heard the ´little people´!" By that she meant dwarf-like, fur-clad beings with a bow and arrow, who in the best case can play jokes with you and in the worst case they can cause great harm ..

Torngat Mountains: The ancestors around us

The keyword is surreal. The landscape clears out and fills the soul at the same time. “I feel at home here,” says Boonie Merkuratsuk. The burly bear hunter with the boyish face works as a bear guide at the camp and is also on the boat trip to Saglek Fjord. While her rifle is leaning against the railing, she talks about how her ancestors caught foxes in the fjords and that this is where she finds her peace of mind. Later, when the boat is anchored between the dark walls of the North Arm, she watches over the group from a small hill as they prepare freshly caught char on the beach. Rain clouds pull in from the sea and mix with the mist in the fjord to form a delicate veil that is gently blown back and forth by the wind. Boonie watches the show for a long time. “I feel the presence of the ancestors. That's why I never feel alone here, ”she says quietly. "I hope to be able to show all of this to my grandchildren at some point."

Photo session with iconic Parks Canada stalls and colleague Susan Nerberg from Montréal

From the ice-cold North Atlantic straight into the pan, and then prepared by Sofie Keelan: Arctic Char can't taste better!

Boonie's ancestors came here seven thousand years ago. This is how far back the dates of the old graves and tent rings scattered across the national park go back. A particularly important place for the Nunatsiavummiut is Sallikuluk, also called Rose Island. More than seven hundred people were buried on the island at the exit of Saglek Fjord. On the way there, Gary explains why the Inuit loved to lay their dead there to rest: They killed two birds with one stone. “The waters around were full of seals, walruses and whales. On the flat shores of the island, their carcasses could be dragged ashore and processed. "
But the surprisingly lovely island - its bare rock is covered by grass and thick moss carpets, alpine roses and other flowers thrive here - also tells a less beautiful story. “Between 1969 and 1971, a paleontologist removed the remains of 113 Inuit for his doctoral thesis,” says Gary, while his group follows him in single file to leave as few traces as possible across the island. “We were only able to bring them back and dignifiedly buried them at the end of the nineties.” The location chosen by the elders lies on a narrow tongue of land and looks out over the open sea. When the boat is heading for the base camp again, a polar bear comes ashore on Sallikulluk. With three or four mighty leaps he overcomes the large boulders in the surf and disappears from view. “Torngarsok”, says the otherwise taciturn skipper Joseph. Torngasok is the spirit of the sea. He is powerful and mean. He prefers to take on the shape of a polar bear. Fortunately, he has no objection to our visit to the island that day.

Always with you, always within reach: One of the Nunatsiavummiut Bear Guides

Notable Elders: Sophie Keelan and John Jararuse, here on Rose Island

North Labrador: Longing for Nunatsiavut

The Base Camp is not only there for visitors and scientists, but also and above all for the Nunatsiavummiut. Students from Nain, Hopedale, and other places in Labrador learn firsthand about their ancient culture. And from here the elders can visit the places where they once grew up and with which they still feel a spiritual connection to this day. Since the forced relocations of the 1950s, the Nunatsiavummiut have been scattered across Labrador and Nunavik, the Inuit region of Québec. The cafeteria, a mixture of waiting room and company canteen, where the coffee never runs out, is their meeting point. Sixty-eight-year-old Sophie Keelan and her cousin, John Jararuse, are also sitting there. With friends and relatives, they review the Inuit games from the previous evening. Above all, strength and skill are required in these traditional competitions. At the “One Foot High Kick”, for example - the participants have to hit a little fur hanging over them with their foot from a standing position and land again with the same foot - a good-looking and unfortunately already married cameraman from British Columbia won. The young Inuit women are curious and ask the elders whether he is entitled to a second wife, at least according to traditional law. Sophie and her friends of the same age put their heads together and try to remember cases from the past. "I think so," smiles Sophie mischievously at the end, "but then the poor guy needs a lot of Viagra."

To see fjords like this one and to know that people have never set foot on possibly 90 percent of this land is an overwhelming feeling!

On the way to Rose Island ..

When it comes to forced relocation, the laughter at the table quickly subsides. Sophie, who has worked as a nurse and health coordinator in Labrador and Nunavik for forty years, takes the floor, assisted by John. The two spent their childhood in Hebron, a little south of the base camp. Hebron was founded by Moravian missionaries around 1830 to settle the wandering Inuit. Over time, the mission station developed into a thriving community with a population of up to fifteen hundred. The Nunatsiavummiut now hunted and fished for the missionaries and passing merchant ships. “We had a good time,” says Sophie, who to this day can count to ten in German and sing German Christmas carols. "We went to school, everyone had a roof over their heads." Nobody knew anything about the fact that the mission was no longer financially viable. Sophie now pauses a lot and speaks so softly that you have to bend over to understand her. It almost seems as if she is not speaking, but carefully distributing words.

On a fine spring day in 1959, all the men in Hebron were called to church. A government representative told them there was a ship coming in August to take them to Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik and other places in the south. Houses, jobs and services, everything has already been prepared. “But when we got to Makkovik, there was nothing. The promised houses weren't built yet, and there weren't any jobs either. Our men couldn't hunt because they didn't know where the seals and reindeer were. ”Until the next year, they survived the arctic winter in a primitive tent city with no electricity or water and suffered from the hostility of the locals who made their tent city“ Hebron End “Called. Now it flashes in Sophie's eyes. “At that time they wisely called our men not to the meeting house but to church because they knew that they would never contradict in the house of God. You treated them like dogs. ”There is silence on the table. Finally John nods. “What Sophie says is true. That's how it really happened. ”Then his eyes fill with tears and he looks to the side.


Hebron. During the heyday of the mission station, 1,500 people lived here.

The original colors on the walls, the old locks and handles in the doors, and the old bell up in the tower: the Nunatsiavummiut are in the process of restoring Hebron and dreaming of a museum / hotel / visitor center.

But it's all a question of time and money, says the caretaker too.

The next morning it goes to Hebron. Some guests fly, others travel with John in the boat. We swap back to the camp. After a cold night, the sun has just breathed life back into the land when the helicopter rises. The pilot takes a detour via the Torngat Mountains. Over the Saglek Fjord, which is even more grandiose from above, and then over wide plateaus with wildly jagged rocks and hundreds of small lakes. Every minute the rising sun pours over the cracked land with ever new colors. Finally, the pilot sets course for the coast. Hebron lies in a small bay.The houses by the water have fallen into disrepair, but the church, once numbered from Germany and reassembled on the spot, is still standing, and rhubarb is still growing in the garden that was laid out for cabbage and radishes.
Unlike the missionaries in other churches, the pious brothers learned the language of their sheep, developed a written language and built a school for their children. Today a caretaker couple looks after everything throughout the summer, while local craftsmen restore the walls, floors and ceilings in the church. The carpenter Gus Simigak was born here in 1956. Although he does not remember the forced relocation of his family to Hopedale, he does remember the hardship at his new place of residence. "My parents couldn't find a job and I pissed my pants at school because we weren't allowed to speak Inuktitut and I couldn't ask about the toilet in English." He's all the happier to be back in Hebron today. "This is my home, my ancestors rest here."

Many of the elders still remember the forced relocation well. Today they take the young people with them to the Torngats and let them feel the power and beauty of their original home.

After the tour of the place, which began so promisingly and then ended so ingloriously, John asks to the church. “This used to be our church,” he begins, “everyone was welcome here.” The warm light of the afternoon sun floods the large room. It smells of fresh wood, the floor is covered with sawdust. A smile shows on John's weathered face. "When I heard that we were being brought to Nain, I was excited," he says, relieving the depressed mood a little. “I thought curfew in Nain was after 9pm, like at home in Hebron. I had no idea. "

On the boat trip back to Base Camp, John Jararuse is sitting at the window. His eyes are fixed on the endless gray coastal mountains, perhaps just as they were fifty-eight years ago when a ship took him to Nain. Sad things had happened, he said in church, but the beginning had been made. Elders like Sophie and he are now working with Parks Canada and not only take care of visitors at the base camp, but also take young nunatsia rubber under their wing. They tell young people threatened by drugs, alcohol abuse and suicide about a time when they thought they were the only people in the world. They take them to the Torngat Mountains to let them see and feel the beauty of their home. And they tell them about Abraham Ulrikab, how he was exhibited in human zoos in Europe and that negotiations are now being made about the transfer of his remains to Nunatsiavut. Because everyone here understands that: Abraham Ulrikab wanted nothing more than to return to Nunatsiavut to see his relatives again. Perhaps this wish will be granted to him at some point.

* This story was published on April 27, 2017 in the FAZ's travel journal


You can find out more about the Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador here

• How to get there: You can drive to Happy Valley-Goose Bay or fly from Halifax (Nova Scotia) or St. John's (Newfoundland).
• Arrangements: Guests at Torngat Mountains Base Camp & Research Station fly in from Happy Valley-Goose Bay in South Labrador. Round-trip flights, excursions, guided hikes and meals are included in the price. You sleep in cosily furnished yurts and igloo domes. Toilets and hot showers are available. There are several four- and seven-night offers. Prices start at 5200 Canadian dollars and bookings are made directly at
• Literature: “In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab” by France Rivet. Polar Horizons Inc., 344 pages.


Ole Helmhausen

Ole Helmhausen is a freelance travel journalist, author, photographer, blogger and VJ and has been traveling to the USA and Canada for 20 years on behalf of German-language newspapers, magazines and publishers. He lives in Montréal, Canada. You can also find him on: Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.