After a century in an unnamed grave, an Inuk girl finally gets her name back | CBC News

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Gravestone with the words 'AN ESKIMO CHILD, DEPARTED 1900'
This is the unnamed grave of Sara Abraha Uvloriak, who died in London at the age of four on Dec. 21, 1899. She came from a family of seven and went to London as part of an exhibition with 30 other Inuit from Labrador. (Submitted by Kenn Harper )

More than a century after her death, a young Labrador Inuk girl buried in a cemetery in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood has received a ceremony and a new gravestone.

And unlike her first gravestone, this one is engraved with her name: Sara Abraha Uvloriak.

Historian and researcher Kenn Harper, who has spent many years in the Arctic writing about Indigenous people, was in England several years ago researching a turn-of-the-century tour in which a promoter brought Indigenous people across Europe and Africa in a travelling exhibition. The 1899 tour involved a group of about 30, including Sara, her parents and her four siblings, who were Inuit from Labrador’s Hebron Mission Station.

Old black-and-white photo of a woman carrying child on her back.
Historian Kenn Harper says he believes this is Juliana, the mother of Sara Abraha Uvloriak. Taken in Madrid. (Submitted by Kenn Harper)

Such tours often involved arduous travel, and Sara died in London at the age of four. Two of her siblings died shortly after.

Her death was recorded in the Moravian church archives, where Harper found her full name in November 2009, sending him to Chelsea to look for her grave — which turned out to be a grave marker that simply said “An Eskimo Child” and incorrectly listed the year of her death as 1900.

“It was just a very touching experience to stand there at the grave of someone whose story you knew a little bit about and to be standing there seeing her grave still without her name,” said Harper.

When Sara was buried, says Moravian Church archivist Lorraine Parsons, there was no record of a burial stone being placed at all. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when a group was clearing the overgrown burial ground, that some previously unknown graves were uncovered, including Sara’s.

Parsons says the stone was relatively modern, about 50 years old.

“We’re thinking it may have been replaced at that time,” said Parsons. “We’re just assuming that at the time they didn’t look into the records to find out who the actual marker was, so it remains a bit of a mystery.”

Harper wrote an article about Sara’s story and her century-old gravesite, published in 2015 by Labrador magazine Them Days. The article was later revised in 2019 by the Nunatsiaq News, a newspaper covering Nunavut and the Nunavik region of Quebec. That’s when the Fetter Lane Moravian Church congregation, which looks after the cemetery, became aware of Sara’s story — and decided to do something about it.

Eleven people stand on the grass in front of a gravestone
Moravian minister, David Howarth, left, members from the Chelsea community, and other representatives in London gathered at a ceremony to unveil a new gravestone for Sara Abraha Uvloriak. (Submitted by Ian Foster)

Ian Foster, a church member and a historian, said Harper’s article was shared among congregants.

“We agreed that it was too sad a story and we can change that,” Foster said. “It was it within our power to change and put the name there.”

The gravestone was replaced and unveiled in a ceremony on Sept. 29, a day before Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“At the time, the congregation wasn’t so aware that that day is essentially dedicated to children, so that was a nice surprise,” Foster said.

Foster described the ceremony as peaceful and calm, with the deputy mayors of Chelsea and Kensington invited to attend, along with about a thousand Chelsea residents.

“We reached out to some members of the wider community because obviously Sara is not just here in the graveyard in Chelsea, but she is now a part of the community,” Foster said.

Gravestone with the name Sara Abraha Uvloriak and her dates of birth and death: Born december 19th 1895, Died December 21st 1899
The new gravestone of Sara Abraha Uvloriak was unveiled in a ceremony in London, honoring her story and her name. (Submitted by Ian Foster)

On the other side of the world, in Ottawa, Harper had no idea of the impact of his article until a friend of his who had worked at the British Museum put him in touch with Foster.

“That’s when I became aware, quite happily, that this initiative was underway,” said Harper, who was able to watch the ceremony online.

Harper is working on uncovering another mystery: this time, it’s the unknown name of a child who was in the same exhibition group as Sara.

“She died in the West London Hospital, and she’s buried in the Margravine Cemetery. Her grave is completely unmarked, and I have no idea why. I guess our job as historians is to try to solve these mysteries the best we can,” he said.

“But I’m glad that Sara’s story has a conclusion, and a happy one at that, with a very beautiful headstone that will last over time.”

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