Thursday, March 22, 2018

Louie Kamookak, 1959-2018

Louie at Victory Point at the 150th anniversary of Crozier's Landing in 1998
In all the recent history of the revival of interest in the fate of the Franklin expedition -- a period which could well be said to encompass the past forty years or more -- there's really only one man whose presence links it all together: Louie Kamookak. He guided numerous parties to sites vital to the history of Franklin, Rae, and other key figures, from the days of the Franklin Probe, through to Dave Woodman's searches, the first Parks Canada search with Robert Grenier, the St Roch II expedition with Ken Burton, Ken McGoogan's re-tracing of Rae's surveys, and beyond. He was there for the recent rediscovery of both of Franklin's ships, and was personally brought to the site of HMS "Erebus" by Parks Canada to perform a traditional ceremony of remembrance. His work preserving Inuit oral traditions extended far beyond the Franklin story; he was the central contact for the Inuit Heritage Trust's work on traditional Inuit place names in the region around King William Island (Qikiqtaq), and helped to collect numerous oral histories of all kinds from the Gjoa Haven elders. He was just as much at home with younger Inuit, guiding them on expeditions on the land that retraced traditional routes and knowledge. And, when news of the Franklin ships' finding raced round the world, Louie was there too. At the school, where he worked, the phone started ringing off the hook, leading him to the wry observation that he'd be harder to find if he had a more common name, but "I'm the only Louie Kamookak in the world."

And now the world has lost him. Not many knew of it, and Louie himself kept fairly quiet, but his cancer diagnosis had everyone around him worried. His Facebook posts, as always, were mostly about family, and every morning all of us who knew him answered to his ready Ublaakut! On March 14th, scarcely a week ago, he posted a rare comment on his illness, which was only to mention that he'd had a good night's sleep after chemo, "another blessing from the Lord." Throughout his illness, as with his earlier bouts with heart disease, Louie's Christian faith was his comfort and his foundation, and placing his trust in God, he weathered more storms than most. The strength of his belief never wavered, even when things became dire, and so the news of his passing came as a shock to his friends, who somehow had hoped that he would always be among us.  His work, his legacy, lives on, and always will -- for even those who never met him will not forget his generous, curious, friendly spirit, which was shared throughout the world via today's technologies. His like will not be seen again.

4 comments:

  1. Louie was a Star amoung us here on Earth. Now, he is amoung the Stars in Heaven.

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  2. In 1999, Tom Gross and I arrived frozen to the bone in Gjoa Haven after a long non-stop snowmobile dash from Cape Felix. Louie met us on the ice of Petersen Bay and immediately took us to his house, plying us with warming drinks and food, offering the hospitality of his shower while his wife cooked us lunch, and chatting for hours until our flight south arrived. He was a generous spirit, and will be missed. My condolences to his family and friends.

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  3. How sad, and yet how lovely. My prayers and condolences to those who all who knew and loved him.

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  4. An expanded version appeared today in the Nunatsiaq News.

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