NOTE: This article says that Scotty Gall was the Skipper of the Baychimo. I believe that he was not the Skipper but he was travelling to Coppermine on Baychimo.
Each shipment brought new diseases
Skipper recalls bringing TB infected Indian back to Coppermine
By Marc Horton
Scotty Gall, skipper of the Hudson’s Bay Company trader Bay Chimo, clearly remembers the day that he put the terminally ill Uluksuk and Dr. Russell Martin ashore at the small village of Coppermine in 1928. “Of course I remember Uluksuk,” the 89 year old Gall recalls from his retirement home in Victoria. “He was the Eskimo who ate the priest’s liver because he hoped to take the man’s spirit,” Gall remembers.
Ulkuskuk, along with Sinnisiak, was convicted in 1917 of the murder of two Oblate missionaries, Fathers Guillaume LeRoux and Jean-Baptiste Rouviere. Both Inuit were sentenced to prison following a trial in Edminton and then an appeal in Calgary. While in Edminton, Uluksuk contracted spinal tuberculosis and was being returned to his home village of Coperfield after doctors in Aklavik decided he would soon die.
“I remember him on the deck of the boat, coughing and spitting,” says Gall.
Uluksuk was so ill – his spine had collapsed as a result of the disease and the infection had become generalized throughout his body, an autopsy would later show – that he had to crawl ashore.
“And every time a plane or a boat came in, they brought the flu and colds,” Gall remembers. He was never worried about catching tuberculosis himself. “The snow house helps breed it, I think,” says Gall, who spent many nights in igloos while in the arctic. Spending a night in a snow house, where temperature hovers at freezing point and everything is damp, is a miserable experience, he says. “I always made a point in trying to get a dry house as often as I could,” he says. “But I learned lots from the Eskimos. They are very clever people,! He says. For many of the Inuit in the arctic, Gall was the first white man they had seen. He would navigate the Northwest Passage, become locked in the ice of the Arctic Ocean and have to be rescued by airplane, serve as a manager of the Hudson’s Bay store in Yellowknife and be elected to a number of terms on the Territorial Council. He also learned to speak Inuktituk, the language of the Inuit.
Gall is an eloquent witness to the tragic consequences of one culture imposing its values on another and he provides one small example of how the requirements of a trading economy changed the lifestyles of Inuit. “Before we went up there, arctic fox skins were used as sanitary pads for women,” he says. With the arrival of traders arctic fox became a valuable pelt upon which the Inuit would come to depend to get money for supplies. The accent of Aberdeenshire still thick, Gall doesn’t choose sides in the pursuit of converts by the churches. “The Anglicans were as bad as the RC’s,” he says. “Both churches had their hardtack Christians.” Hardtack is a northern staple, a rock-hard biscuit that’s broken molars throughout the North. “These people each had their point of view and there were some of the natives who couldn’t understand how there was one creator and different views. It was hard for them to stomach that”, Gall says. The unbecoming contest for converts reached its height when an Inuit would die. Whichever church won the right to perform the burial service was regarded as the winner. Gall, whose comments add punch to the new documentary Coppermine, sums it all up in the film’s final scene. There is much passion behind his words. “God damn it,” he says, “the Eskimos came out of the ice age, they followed the ice and they survived without us, with their own primitive methods. And we go in there with our guns and everything and interrupt the cycle. The Eskimo I knew was a hunter and they always looked after one another. OK, OK. What have we given them? We’ve given them the benefits of civilization, but we’ve given them the dope and booze, too. So are we ahead or behind? I know the Caucasian steamroller. I really know it….”
HERE IS A CLIP FROM THE VIDEO "COPPERMINE"
Coppermine extracts from Iain Cameron on Vimeo.