Case study 03


Narratives of Smith Sound – Inuit Voices and scientific competition 

A historic site

Smith Sound (Smith Sund), between Northwest Greenland and Ellesmere Island at the entrance to the Nares Strait, is a key site in the history of the formation of Arctic Cultures. Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Smith Sound was constantly visited, represented and catalogued by Danish, American and British travellers and scientists. It was envisaged throughout as a source of a potential route for a Northwest Passage, a site of peculiar biodiversity, and a place of significant cultural heritage (being a site where the Thule Inughuit were encountered, and where archaeological evidence of Thule-Norse contact was discovered).

Robert Peary and the Inuit

The American explorer, Robert Peary, used Etah, at the mouth of Smith Sound, as the base for his explorations of northern Greenland in the 1890s, and as staging post for his eventual attempts on the North Pole. It was Peary who brought six Inuit from Smith Sound to the American Museum of Natural History in New York during 1897-98. In 1993, some of the human remains of Inuit were repatriated to Qaanaaq, Greenland. Smith Sound became a critical place whereby disciplinary practices and identities began to be established, and where Arctic Cultures were formed in deeply colonial and violent relations between the metropole and the northlands.