1924: Alikomiak and Tatimagana, Inuit

On this date in 1924, the Canadian government made an example of two Inuit murderers on the Arctic Sea’s Herschel Island.


Alikomiak and Tatimagana (there are many alternate transliterations of each name) had been arrested in 1921 for killing four in a wife-stealing affair, then killed two more while in custody.

Canada, in the midst of a decades-long process of projecting its sovereignty in the Arctic, had let lenient treatment of some Inuit “criminals” in a few notable cases during the preceding years, and there was sentiment that an example of the majesty of the law was in order. “Make these tribes understand that the stern but at the same time just hand of British justice extends also to these northern shores,” the prosecutor implored the jury. (pdf, a great resource on this case)

To say nothing of whites’ sense that Inuits were savages.

Mr. Rasmussen states that 75% of the male population are murderers in fact it is the exception, where a man is a weakling or has something wrong with him, that a man has not at least one killing to his credit. These people are always on the offensive. This is particularly the case among the Netsilik band. While at Pelly Bay he offered a reward to his native Greenland Boy if he could find one man who was not a murderer. These people hold life very cheaply and as Mr. Rasmussen says it is a very easy matter to get killed. An attempt was made on his life at the H.B.C. post at Kent Peninsula. Now that these people know that the Police from Chesterfield Inlet and Kent Peninsula Detachments have arrested and taken out natives for committing murder, they immediately prepare for a fight on observing the approach of a strange sled or outfit. They are prepared to die fighting and have absolutely no fear of death yet they have the greatest fear of being taken away from their own country. Here I would like to say that this latter is the reason Alicomiak gave for killing Cpl. Doak and O. Binder at Tree River and lends truth to Mr. Rasmussen’s statement also judging from the absolute fearlessness with which Alicomiak and Tatamigans met their death here on the scaffold in February last would further corroborate it. In his travels from Pelly Bay through to Ellice River, Rasmussen says that on approaching a native camp of a number of natives, they, on noticing his strange outfit, at once made preparations for a fight thinking he was a policeman and on such occasions the first thing he had to do was to inform them that he was not a policeman, where upon they were most friendly and hospitable and would talk openly of murders they had committed when questioned about it.

That Dr. Knud Rasmussen cited at second-handed in the RCMP brief above was a great chronicler of the Inuit, and would record of this day’s hanging how “heavy and cumbersome machinery was required to get the two murderers sentenced. Judges, jury and witnesses had to be summoned from long distances.” The legal personnel were sent especially for this trial, along with the timber to build a gallows. You could say the verdict was foreordained.

Rasmussen’s work on the Inuit was recently put to celluloid by the director of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner … another dimension, like the hanging this date, in the complex collision of cultures.

There was only one more hanging in the Yukon before Canada abolished the death penalty, though Canada was hardly finished using Inuit as instruments of its northern policy.

On this day..