Interview with Louie Kamookak

Louie Kamookak

Louie Kamookak, a senior hunter of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, participated in a series of expeditions in search of evidence of Franklin in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and is considered to have been more involved in the search than any other individual.

Ken Beardsall - Interview with Louie Kamookak relating to his knowledge and interpretations of the missing last expedition of Sir John Franklin

1) When and how did you first hear of the missing last expedition of Sir John Franklin?

[My grandmother’s] name was Uman, and the story was that she was very young, maybe about six or seven. They were travelling. The story was that they were on King William Island, they were travelling to the north part of the island to cut some wood and when they got kind of close to the shore there, it was in this area, they came across a ridge. Because when you go up here it’s all gravel and gravel ridge, so this area has fine rocks. They came to one and they started finding some artifacts: they didn’t know what they were. They were picking up brown things, dark things…then she noticed they were from a musket, a rifle. And there were spoons and forks: they didn’t know what they were.

So they went there and collected a few items there. They went first to the shore to look for some drift wood, and on the shore they started finding some more artifacts and they saw this big rope or a big chain going to the ocean, in Erebus Bay, in the corner of this bay. She said there was a big chain going to the ocean and they had a word for the chain, they call it […], like this, two fingers attaching, and it was going right into the ocean. From there, the story….I heard the story when I was maybe about six, seven, eight, nine, and it always stayed in my head. I used to say “one day, I’m going to go see that spot”. And then I went to school, in school another was telling us when I was about twelve or thirteen, one my teacher starts telling me about the Franklin men dying off on the island, not far from King William Island and that’s when it clicked: that was the story my great-grandmother told me.

2) What happened to Franklin's party?

Franklin died, he was the most experienced, you know…at what he was doing, he died, and that’s a big loss, 50 percent of the loss. The record that was found, nine officers are dead, 20 others…you know, 9 officers, that’s a lot of officers that had died already, they made them leave them on the field. The officers were older, they tend to die more early than the young people back then. John Franklin was 61, I think, and that was very old for the time. The one who came closer was 54, that’s also old. A lot of people think that he might be one of the last people to live but…

The sickness, I think the sickness was there because of the ovens, or the stoves. They were trying to get rid of skin disease or other sickness, they were already very sick.

3) Why did they fail? 

Yes, the leaders…The qualified, most experienced people were dead, that left the younger people…they break into groups as per the findings.

4) Where are the ships?

We’d be looking at this in some theories…on O’Reilly. There’s stories about the other one being crushed and there’s also other stories…there’s another place called Umiaqtalik, near King’s Island…down Montreal Island and right across there’s a place called King’s Island. And there’s some stories even recently, maybe twenty years, ten years, of a boat-shaped sighting under the ocean that was travelling down. Another elder I interviewed, in a place called Umiaqtalik, just on the shore: he said he was caribou hunting way above the tide line, the water line area…he thought he saw a big long mast and he’s 100 percent that it’s a mast. I had thought of going looking for it but I haven’t gone. So it’s possible it’s up here, it’s possible it’s here, it’s possible down here.

5) How do you know?

The oral history I collected way before I had read most of the journals or most of the books that came out from the explorers. I did all the oral history and then later on over the years I tried to match what people were saying with the stories from the explorers.

6) Why do you care?

When I first started searching for Franklin I think…You know, I always say that if I find Franklin’s body, then he should go back to England, to rest besides his wife. That’s what his wife wished, for him to be there. And I think he should rest there. And the vault would be a tourist benefit for the community or for students to go see.

7) What is the significance of Franklin's last expedition?

I think it was important. On his first…on his second expedition, when they were down the Mackenzie River, he met a group of Inuit, a very aggressive bunch, they were over 300. They almost robbed them as he watched. He was ready to shoot but if he had shot he would be dead, all his men would have been killed because they outnumbered them. At that time, when he negotiated when they tried to take his stuff, he said: “In the future, boats will come, with a lot of stuff to trade with you.” So I’m pretty sure if he had made it, he would have brought them some gifts. And I think it would have been important for those people, you know, that he kept his promise. And the other thing is, you know, that the Northwest Passage which he was trying to do, which hasn’t happened today yet but maybe in the future.

Sunken ship