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Gjoa haven 1903–2011

During Amundsen’s visit, Gjoa Haven was one of the places the Netsilik spent time during their annual migration through the Arctic landscape.

Towards the end of the 1920s, the trading station became the first permanent building in Gjoa Haven. The missionaries followed. The Netsilik started settling here permanently in the 1950s.

Today Gjoa Haven is the largest of the three communities in the Netsilik area.

Gjoa Haven 1903-1905

From Gjoa Haven, King William Island. Photographs: Roald Amundsen’s expedition

Gjoa Haven, summer 1904. Photograph taken from hill north-east of the bay. Netsilik tents in foreground, Gjoa in background.
Gjoa frozen into the ice in Gjoa Haven. Winter 1904.
Netsilik visiting Gjoa in Gjoa Haven. From left: Anana, Onaller, Kabloka and Umiktuallu.
Igloos near Gjoa Haven. Connecting several igloos made it possible for people to visit each other without braving the cold. Large community igloos were also built this way.
The angakok (shaman) Eldro (Præderik) and his wife in their igloo. In the foreground, overshoes are drying on a rack over a lamp.
Kabloka, 17 years old. Her husband Ugpi was one of Amundsen’s closest friends among the Netsilik. Note the tattoos on her face.
Akla and his son.
Small archers. Children wore suits like this from the time they left their mothers’ parkas (aged two) until they were about six years old.
Ahiva and his wife Alo-Alo ready to go hunting. Amundsen called Ahiva a dandy – a young man with a well-developed interest in clothes and style.

Gjoa Haven 2011

Today Gjoa Haven is a community with shops, schools, a clinic and an airport. Nevertheless, hunting and fishing are still impor- tant to people. Although hunters use skidoos and prefer to sleep in hunting cabins rather than in igloos these days, the harpoon is still their first choice when hunting seals at breathing holes on the ice.

Gjoa Haven, May 2011. Photograph taken from hill north-east of the bay. The hamlet (population 1,200) stretches north towards the airport. Photo: Museum of Cultural History, UiO, 2011
People on the ice during the Spring Games. At the end of May. People in Gjoa Haven come together for two weeks of games and competitions. Here, people are packing up after the ice fishing competition.
Garbage removal in “Uptown”, the new development next to the airport in Gjoa Haven.
It took only a few seconds for one of the fourth graders at Quqshuun Ilihakvik (Gjoa Haven’s elementary school) to produce a work of art for us to photograph: Dog team! The school children here have pen pals at Karlsrud school in Oslo.
Virtual museum visit: Elders Martha Hiqiniq, Alice Aglukkaq and Ruby Eleeheetook discuss the permanent Netsilik exhibition at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. Rachel Hiqiniq interpreting.


The University of Oslo is celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2011. The Museum of Cultural History is marking this anniversary by returning some of the objects from our Netsilik collection to Gjoa Haven. The objects represent aspects of everyday Netsilik life: housekeeping, hunting and fishing. In this context, the harpoon is a key object.

A proposal for the return of fifteen objects was presented to the hamlet council in Gjoa Haven in May 2011. The council responded with enthusiasm. One factor in selecting the objects was that they could tolerate the journey. Another was the number of examples the Oslo museum has of a particular type of object.

We consider this repatriation significant in terms of cultural policy. The repatriation represents the return of a part of Netsilik cultural heritage. This is in keeping with the spirit of Roald Amundsen. It also marks a further step in the history of cooperation between Norway and Canada in the field of Arctic history.

Gjoa Haven hamlet council. after the meeting to discuss the repatriation of Netsilik artefacts from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo to the new Centre for Cultural Heritage in Gjoa Haven. In front: Mayor Allen Aglukkaq. Behind, from left: Donald Angogoak, Megan Porter, Uriash Puqiqnak, Susan Hillier and Peter Akkukugnaq. From the Museum of Cultural history: Tom G. Svensson and Tone Wang.

Netsilik sculpture

The Netsilik Inuit have been recognised as skilled artists since the end of the 1970’s. Their vibrant soapstone sculptures are particularly impressive. Netsilik art unites Inuit traditions with the present. Myths and legends are often used as themes for the sculptures. The themes give the Netsilik people a distinctive identity in the market for Inuit art.

The main pioneers of Netsilik art were the brothers Nelson Takkiruq and Judas Ullulaq from Gjoa Haven and Charlie Ugyuk from Taloyoak. They are no longer with us. However, their work has inspired a whole new generation of artists. Among these are Wayne Puqiqnak and Leo Uttaq.

In spring 2011, the museum was able to purchase several sculptures from Gjoa Haven artists. The art market now opens economic opportunities for talented Netsilik artists. A new tradition has emerged. It is taken for granted that these artists also spend a significant amount of time out on the land hunting and fishing. To be recognised as a good hunter as well as a well-known artist gives high status in Gjoa Haven.

Naturalistic face. Stone. Joseph Suslaq 2011
Drum dancer. Soapstone, caribou antler. Leo Uttaq 2011
Spritual hunter. Soapstone, caribou antler. Wayne Puqiqnak 2011
Spiritual Fisherman. Soapstone, caribou antler. Wayne Puqiqnak 2011
Local soapstone.. The raw material used by the artists in Gjoa Haven.
Judas Ullulaq working out of doors on rough shaping using a power tool. 1993. Photo: Tom G. Svensson, Museum of Cultural History, UiO
Nelson Takkiruq in his kitchen, 1993. He is engaged in the time consuming polishing using sandpaper in cold water. Photo: Tom G. Svensson, Museum of Cultural History, UiO
Leo Uttaq in his outdoors studio 2011. Photo: Tom G. Svensson, Museum of Cultural History, UiO
Wayne Puqiqnak in his kitchen 2011. He is polishing the sculpture of the spiritual hunter the museum now owns. Photo: Tom G. Svensson, Museum of Cultural History, UiO
Published Jan. 20, 2021 10:53 AM - Last modified Mar. 8, 2021 9:15 AM