Nunavut is the easternmost and newest of Canada’s three territories, sharing a border with the Northwest Territories to the west and Manitoba to the south. It is the largest of all the provinces and territories of Canada and includes most of the Arctic Archipelago. The region has been home to a continuous population of First Peoples for roughly 4,000 years. The Inuit are the dominant group in Nunavut, forming the majority of the population in all communities. Europeans first began exploring the area in the late 16th century while searching for the Northwest Passage.
Three Inuit men (L to R: Lucas, Bobbie and Johnnie) posing for a photograph outside, Port Burwell, Nunavut (MIKAN 3223586)
Throughout the Cold War, the Canadian government forced many Inuit from northern Quebec to relocate to the northern reaches of what was then the Northwest Territories, in an effort to assert its sovereignty over the Arctic Archipelago. The Canadian government compensated their descendants for the hardship several decades later in response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. In the late 1970s, inhabitants of what is now Nunavut began discussions with the federal government about the creation of a separate territory. This came to fruition in 1999 when Nunavut became the third Canadian territory, giving the Inuit greater autonomy.
Did you know?
The name Nunavut is from the Inuktitut dialect of Eastern Arctic Inuit and translates into “Our Land.”
Nunavut recognizes four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.
Seals are a central part of life and an essential source of locally-harvested food for Inuit peoples. Many traditions, customs, beliefs and oral histories revolve around the seal. Inuit peoples were and still are in an important and direct relationship with this animal. Inuit hunters have great respect for the spirit of the seal, an animal that is so heavily relied upon. Every single part of the seal is used, as the harvesting must be sustainable, humane and respectful. Most importantly, cold and harsh arctic climates demand that people have the right shelter and clothing to keep warm and dry, and seals help meet this need through their skins, fur and oil.
Woman tending a seal-oil lamp inside an igloo, Western Arctic, probably Nunavut, 1949 (MIKAN 3202745)
Inuit women developed highly skilled techniques in order to treat and use seal in various ways throughout the seasons. They scraped the skins clean of blubber with an ulu (a traditional, women’s knife with a crescent-shaped blade) then stretched and dried them, as seen in this photograph of Taktu.
Taktu cleaning fat from a seal skin, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, summer 1960 (MIKAN 4324316)