The discovery this month in Nunavut of HMS Terror, the second ship of Sir John Franklin's lost expedition, is adding fuel to a disagreement over who – Canada, the local Inuit organizations or Britain – controls the artifacts from the shipwrecks.
The archeological artifacts are British naval vessels, lying in what is now Canada, in a territory created by a land-claim agreement with the Inuit.
Canada and Britain are currently negotiating which items retrieved from the first ship, HMS Erebus, would be transferred to a British museum. An announcement is expected this fall.
However, the Inuit of Nunavut say they want to be part of those discussions because they have a treaty claim to archeological findings in the territory.
"They haven't advised us at all of any details. As far as we're concerned, this violates the Crown's fiduciary obligations to Inuit," said James T. Arreak, chief executive officer of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which represents Nunavut Inuit.
Jacquie Shaw, a spokeswoman for Britain's National Museum of the Royal Navy, in Portsmouth, England, confirmed that her institution has been in talks with Canada about objects from Erebus. "We should be issuing a statement in six to eight weeks," she said, declining to give details.
The discovery of Terror's wreck "may have an impact on the discussions," she added.
In an e-mailed statement, Parks Canada noted that an advisory committee had been set up, with representatives from Inuit groups and the Nunavut government, who have been updated on the negotiations with the British. "We will continue to build upon the long-standing positive relationship with the Government of Nunavut, Inuit and all other partners," the statement said.
The competing claims come as the latest archeological find might give more answers about the last days of Franklin's Arctic voyage, a British Royal Navy mission to chart the Northwest Passage.
None of the expedition's 129 British sailors survived after their two ships, Erebus and Terror, were locked in ice in 1846.
After six previous searches conducted jointly by partners that included the Canadian government and the non-profit Arctic Research Foundation, Erebus was found in 2014 in the Queen Maud Gulf. A bronze bell was the first object retrieved from the sunken ship.
Then, earlier this month, the foundation said its research vessel Martin Bergmann had discovered the well-preserved wreck of Terror in a bay off King William Island.
Under an August, 1997, memorandum of understanding, any artifacts "identified by Britain as being of outstanding significance to the Royal Navy" would be offered to the British for display in a museum.
Already this spring, the leadership of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., had pressed Ottawa to recognize that the Inuit have a claim to the Erebus artifacts.
In an April 1 letter to Catherine McKenna, the cabinet minister responsible for Parks Canada, NTI acting president James Eetoolook asked for an acknowledgment of the Inuit's ownership rights.
The letter cited Article 33 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the accord that led in 1999 to the creation of Nunavut.
Article 33 says the government and the Inuit-controlled Inuit Heritage Trust shall "jointly own all archeological specimens that are found within … Nunavut."
However, areas administered by Parks Canada are exempt from Article 33.
Even before the locations of Erebus and Terror had been traced, they were designated as a national historic site in 1992.
However, the designation provided no protection for the wrecks until April, 2015, when an order-in-council was adopted to put the Erebus site under Parks Canada administration. A management plan was to be completed within five years with designated Inuit organizations.
Mr. Arreak said the Inuit consider the shipwreck sites to be part of Nunavut.
In August, the Inuit sent Ms. McKenna another letter, pointedly noting that they had not received a reply to their previous missive.
The second letter was signed by NTI president Cathy Towtongie and Stanley Anablak, president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, which represents Inuit in the administrative region where the wrecks were found.
"The negotiations between Canada and Britain on the ownership or disposition of artifacts from the HMS Erebus directly affect Inuit treaty rights," it said.
Mr. Arreak said joint ownership would yield job opportunities and contracts for Nunavut.
The 1997 memorandum between Canada and Britain gave Canadians custody of the wrecks even though their British counterparts did not waive ownership of the ships' contents.
In addition to outlining what would happen to items of significance to the Royal Navy, the memorandum said any gold from the wrecks would be shared by the two countries.