Historical Events

Eskimos living absolutely isolated from civilization of any kind, are undoubtedly the happiest, healthiest, most honourable

The Northwest Passage

Aboard with Amundsen I heard from all and sundry, but especially from the second-in-command, the Danish naval lieutenant Godfred Hansen, about the relatively admirable results of Danish care for Eskimos of Greenland. I also heard much of the allegedly deplorable results of our hit-and-miss system, or lack of system at that time, in the civilized parts of Alaska and Canada; and about the healthy, happy, and admirable, not yet civilized Eskimos whom the Gjoa had known for two years in and around King William Island. Better than anything I could write up, from memory and records, is to quote on this point from Amundsen's two-volume The Northwest Passage (London and New York, 1908). The following excerpt is from his two-chapter section “The Inhabitants of the Magnetic North Pole”:

“During the three year voyage of the Gjoa we came in contact with ten different Eskimo tribes in all, and we had good opportunities of observing the influence of civilization upon them, as we were able to compare those Eskimos who had come in contact with civilization with those who had not. And I must state it as my firm conviction that the latter, the Eskimos living absolutely isolated from civilization of any kind, are undoubtedly the happiest, healthiest, most honourable and most contented among them ...”

Here and there The Northwest Passage gives instances of modern physical decay, and of the tragic effect of Europeanization on health and longevity. On page 142 of Vol. II Amundsen speaks of the people of the Mackenzie delta, a region in which I was to live Eskimo style off and on during the six years following the Gjoa's voyage. Says Amundsen: “... civilization has had its corrupting influence upon them, so that instead of several hundred families their number was reduced to a handful.”

In Amundsen's book, the last sentence of the final chapter on the people of King William Island is set off by him as a paragraph:

“My sincerest wish for our friends the Nechilli Eskimos is, that civilization may never reach them.”

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