Coppermine River Murder

 

 

Inspector Charles La Nauze, Corporal Dennis Withers and Sgt. James Freeman make a fourteen month patrol by dog team from Fort Norman to the mouth of the Coppermine River to arrest tow Inuit – Uloqsaq and Sinisiak for the murder of two priests.

 

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

In late 1913, Jean-Baptiste Rouvière and Guillaume Le Roux, two Catholic priests, were on a mission to convert the Inuit in the Coppermine River region. The priests enlisted the assistance of Uloqsaq as well as Sinnisiak, another hunter, and paid them in traps.  However, Le Roux, who had a short temper, quickly got angry with the two Inuit men, slapping them for speaking in their native language and forcing them at rifle point to pull their sled.  The two soon decided that Le Roux’s anger meant that the priests wanted to kill them.  Sinnisiak urged Uloqsaq to help him kill the two men, and the priests were shot, stabbed and axed to death. For ritualistic reasons, the two Inuit ate a portion of the two priests livers.

Some Inuit later told the investigating policemen a different story.  They claimed that at an Inuit camp, a man had stolen a rifle from one of the priests and gotten into a fight with Le Roux. Although, the Inuit who had stolen the weapon wanted to kill Le Roux, the priests managed to escape. Sinnisiak and Uloqsaq began to follow the priests, and caught up with them at Bloody Falls, where Sinnisiak stabbed and shot the two men. Although, Uloqsaq assisted on Sinnisiak’s urging, he said that he did not want to kill the priest and only did so because he had been told to by Sinnisiak.

The disturbing report of the priests disappearance rekindled the Forces adventurous spirit in mid-spring of 1915.  Commissioner Perry ordered Inspector Charles ADenny@ La Nauze, stationed in Regina, to go north and undertake an arduous patrol in search of the two priests.  Word reached Fort Norman that Inuit had been seen wearing the priests’ clothing, and the two men surrendered themselves without incident in May 1916.  Partly due to a previous incident with similar circumstances following which no action was taken, the authorities wished to make an example out of the two Inuit men, and Sinnisiak was tried in Edmonton for the murder of Rouvière, largely because it was thought that Sinnisiak had been the Aringleader@. After one a one hor deliberation the jury found him not guilty because the jury thought that the Inuit man had cause to kill the priest.

Following the not guilty verdict, the two Inuit men were taken to Calgary in late August, where they were found guilty of the murder of Le Roux.  This was the first time Inuit had been found guilty of murder in a Canadian court.  The law at that time had a mandatory sentence of death for the crime of murder, yet the jury and the judge did not wish for the pair to die for their crimes owing to the provocative nature of the priest=s actions before their deaths.  To avoid the death penalty, the judge sentenced the pair to death by hanging, with the execution date set as October 15.  The sentence was immediately commuted  to life imprisonment at Fort Resolution Detachment.  In 1919, the pair assisted police in establishing a new police contingent at Tree River, and in 1922 they were released.

 

The Calgary Herald reported in 1917:   On word of Indians who had heard the news after it had traveled down a thousand miles uninhabited by white men, as a message that for years traveled by moccasin telegraph, British Justice in the form of the North West Mounted Police went out to the lips of the frozen sea to teach the people of a million dark nights that ‘Athou shalt not kill.’

 For more detail read the ‘The Bad and the Lonely’  by Martin Robin

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage

 

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