History & Culture
Oral storytelling can date the origins of Inuit on the Arctic Archipelago as far back as 1,000 years ago, when ancient people known as the Thule developed a maritime hunting culture, creating large semi-permanent communities with structures made of whalebone and sod, intricate metal hunting tools, and unique carvings. As cooling climates changed Thule culture around 500 years ago, the diverse Inuit societies that live on today in Nunavut began to emerge.
Inuit lifestyle has always existed in a perfectly adapted balance with the environmental conditions of the Arctic in different regions.
In the Kitikmeot region, traditional cycles meant Inuit lived in larger villages on the sea ice in the winter before moving back to the land in the summer in smaller groups. This yearly pattern of travel was between the best hunting grounds for seals in the winter and caribou in the spring and summer. In Kivalliq, Inuit relied on inland resources rather than coastal ones, fishing for trout and hunting geese and caribou - making clothes, containers, and structures from the skins. In the Qikiqtaaluk, Inuit adapted to the wide-variety of Arctic challenges, harvesting from the land and sea resources.
These rich and enduring cultures represent the diverse history of Inuit life in Nunavut, and by the 1960’s it was clear that Inuit needed their own political representation and distinction as a unique part of Canada.
“Modern Nunavut is a palace where lifestyle is informed by traditional culture as much as it is by the modern world.”
A New Territory
Until the territory’s creation in 1999, the regions of Nunavut were part of the Northwest Territories, and even then the territorial government met in Ottawa until 1967 when it was moved to Yellowknife - still a far distance from where Inuit could feel they were involved in their own governance. It was around then that Inuit began to make a political push for land claims and self-governance of the regions that were home to their unique culture and demands.
Several land claims and negotiations called for the establishment of a new territory and a new government - representative of the distinct Inuit populations of Nunavut. As support for a separate Nunavut grew, Peter Ittinuar was elected to the House of Commons as the first Inuk to represent the lands that would become Nunavut.
Finally , The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act - the largest Indigenous land-claims settlement in Canadian history - and the Nunavut Act, which created the new territory, were both passed on June 10th and came into force on July 9th, 1993. The NLCA granted Inuit the right to hunt, fish and trap throughout the territory, building the demands of their culture and lifestyle directly into the foundations of Nunavut. In February of 1999, Nunavut held its first territorial election and on April 1st, officially separated from the Northwest Territories becoming a territory specifically representative of the people who had always lived a unique way of life - Nunavut.
In Nunavut today, the vibrant Inuit culture behind the territory's creation, is alive and thriving. Although life has changed dramatically in some ways, traditional knowledge and cultural practices remain an essential factor in the lives of Nunavummiut. Traditional knowledge informs government policies, traditional arts are a central part of each community's identity, and the traditionally nomadic lifestyle lives on as Nunavummiut travel great distances over land and sea for harvesting, recreation, work, or simply travelling to distant communities.
Nunavut’s population is one of the fastest growing in Canada, and also one of the youngest. Inuit still make up a majority of the population, and while communities have settled and grown larger, most are still quite remote for large portions of the year and maintain cultural diversity between regions, including the ways they have adapted to modern life in the Arctic.
Traditional arts and crafts remain an iconic part of the economy of Nunavut and Inuit expression. Stone carvings, weavings, and prints provide an important supplementary source of income in some Inuit communities and in recent years have made Inuit culture more familiar to collectors worldwide. Beyond traditional arts and crafts, Nunavut artists are emerging and gaining international recognition in film and television as well as in the music industry, especially for artists that blend traditional styles with modern genres.
Modern Nunavut is a palace where lifestyle is informed by traditional culture as much as it is by the modern world. Nunavummiut have preserved a traditional way of life in order to thrive in the Arctic, and the journey towards establishing self-governance as a territory has given Inuit control over promoting and protecting their culture and history.