Review: Thou Shalt Do No Murder

Thou Shalt Do No Murder
Inuit, Injustice, and the Canadian Arctic
Reviewed by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail

Thou Shalt Do No Murder: Inuit, Injustice, and the Canadian Arctic
by Kenn Harper
Nunavut Arctic College Media, 452 pages, $38.95

In 1923, three Inuit men were put on trial at Pond Inlet, on Baffin island, for the killing of qallunaat (white) trader Robert Janes. This story is not widely known outside the North, but it has fascinated me ever since I discovered Shelagh D. Grant’s book Arctic Justice over a decade ago.

Kenn Harper has been gripped by this history for much longer and has produced a hefty tome entitled Thou Shalt Do No Murder: Inuit, Injustice, and the Canadian Arctic.

Harper has lived in the Arctic for fifty years, working as a teacher, historian, linguist, and businessman. He speaks Inuktitut and is the author of the bestselling Give Me My Father’s Body (recently republished as Minik: The New York Eskimo and optioned for film).
He first heard of the Pond Inlet trial in the 1970s, shortly after he moved north. It is clear both from the text and from his bibliography that Harper has immersed himself in this history via many hours spent with Inuit elders and much time in archives.
One of those elders, Jimmy Etuk, was alive when the killing and the trial took place. It is Etuk who begins the book in gripping style. His “speech was volcanic,” Harper tells us, as Etuk launches into the tale of Robert Janes’ descent into apparent madness and the circumstances that apparently forced Nuqallaq and two other Inuit men to end his life.

 

To read the full review, as it appeared in the October-November 2018 issue of Canada’s History, please click here.

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