Nunavut: Amazing History and Geography of Northern Canada and the Inuit!

Video Script bellow:

This is Nunavut

It is Canadas largest territory with a total area of 2,093,190 sq. km. (almost 1 million square miles)

Making up 1/5th of Canada’s total landmass, if it were a country it would be the 14th largest country in the world. Slightly smaller than Saudi Arabia but larger than Mexico. 

The creation of Nunavut resulted in the first major change to Canada’s political map since 1949. as It was officially separated from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999.

Its capital and the most populous city is Iqaluit with an official count of 7,740 residents.

The distance between Iqaluit and the Canadian capital of Ottawa is 2,088 kilometers.

This is not a whole lot closer than the capital of Iceland; Reykjavik which is some 2224km east. 

Meanwhile Juneau, the capital of Alaska is 3439km west. 

Nunavut is one of the world’s most remote, sparsely settled regions, with beautiful and unique geographical features.

The total population of the territory is roughly 36 thousand residents.

By comparison, Greenland has approximately the same area and nearly twice the population. 

Nunavut is also home to the world’s northernmost permanently inhabited place, Alert

located on Ellesmere Island 817 kilometers inside the north pole Pole. As of  2016 , the population was reported as 62. Its name describes the original intended purpose of the settlement – the interception of signals that would Alert Canada in the case of an event such as an impending invasion. 

Other major Nunavut settlements include Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Igloolik, Kugluktuk, Pangnirtung, and Cape Dorset.

Iqaluit is the only settlement large enough to be considered a city and as such the only location that receives free Amazon Prime shipping.

The entire territory of Nunavut has just under 32 km of paved road. To get to communities people use planes, boats, and snowmobiles. Since maintaining roads is completely impractical considering the local climate.

Nunavut, owing to its high latitude has some of the most extreme weather conditions in the world  with bitterly cold winters and cool summers. 

If we consider windchill temperature that is adjusting the temperature according to how quickly you lose heat due to the passage of cold air then Iqaluit might be the coldest inhabited city on earth.  

Even colder than Yakutsk or Norilsk, in Siberia. 

It is of no surprise therefore that most of Nunavut is actually  thundra meaning that the land can only be described as barren, cold, unforgiving and tree less. 

This also means that it is entirely overpopulated in a sense that the land can in no way feed its 36 thousand residents. 

Meaning that food has to be imported leading to exceptionally high prices. 

How about a 63$ fruit tray? 

Or a 

50$ salad

In Nunavut all goods are up to 3 times higher than the average Canadian price which has lead to Nunavut being the most food insecure region in Canada.

This is where the importance of Sea Lift becomes apparent to the long term well being of the residents and the sustainability of its communities; 

Sealift refers to the re-supply of isolated communities with bulky goods. It is the most common delivery method used for the coastal communities due to the lower cost and the larger capacity of ships and barges over aircraft. 

However shipments are only available during the summer months when sea ice has receded. 

As a result every year, the excitement  builds in the weeks leading up to SeaLift’s arrival, as the wait for vehicles, furniture and “fresh” packaged food comes to an end. 

Food prices in May, June and early July, are actually at their cheapest – since most items in the store have expired. 

Almost none of Canada’s Northern communities have any port facilities, in those cases the ships must ground themselves in daring operations that are depicted in the show High Arctic Haulers.

Cargo planes also supply the communities and usually deliver perishable goods with shorter expiry dates however these goods become significantly more expensive 

If shipped via sea lift, a pack of 12 cans of pepsi costs $14.99. However, if shipped via air freight, that same item is going to cost as much as $24.99.  Considering the inflated cost of groceries not receiving goods through Sea Lift can be a massive economical blow to a whole community

This economy of Nunavut is driven by mining, oil, gas, mineral exploration, arts, crafts, hunting, fishing, whaling, tourism, transportation, housing development, military, research, and education.

Overall the outlook for the territory is quite positive and Nunavut is seeing the fastest growth in the nation mostly thanks to investment in mining. 

As for local elections due to the territory’s small population, and the fact that there are only a few hundred voters in each electoral district, the possibility of two candidates finishing in an exact tie is higher than in any Canadian province or territory.

This has actually happened twice already since the creation of the territory. 

In such an event, Nunavut’s practice is to schedule a follow-up election. 

Due to prohibition laws influenced by local and traditional beliefs, Nunavut has a highly regulated alcohol market.

It is the last outpost of prohibition in Canada, and it is often easier to obtain firearms than alcohol.

Every community in Nunavut has slightly differing regulations, but as a whole it is very restrictive.

Because of these laws, a lucrative bootlegging market has appeared estimated to be worth about 10 million $ a year 

Alcohol is believed to be contributing to the territory’s high rates of violence, suicide, and homicide. 

Even though historically liquor prohibition has shown to be ineffective many residents want to ban it completely. 

In 2014, Nunavut’s government decided to move toward legalization. A liquor store opened in Iqaluit, for the first time in 38 years in 2017

So who are these people who want to ban alcohol and make up the majority of the population of nunavut? And where do they come from? 

Of the 36 thousand inhabitants of the territory roughly 84% identify themselves as Inuit. 

The term Inuit refers broadly to the Arctic indigenous population of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Inuit means “people,” and the language they speak is called Inuktitut, though there are regional dialects that are known by slightly different names. 

In the past these communities relied on their natural resources, strong leaders, and innovative tools and skills to adapt to the cold, harsh environments of the Arctic north,

surviving primarily on fish and sea mammals such as seals, whales, caribou, and walruses

According to old sagas the first contact between European people and Inuits happened in the 1350’s when the Vikings settled in Greenland and thereafter in 1576 it was the British explorer Sir Martin Frobisher who traveled into the area east of Baffin Island to search for an open water passage to Asia.

 So that was how the first documented transactions between Inuits and Westerners really occurred.

Other explorers also conducted their search for new lands with little experience and few technologies suited to the harsh environment in which they traveled. 

leading to many disasters and lost expeditions, and many more were marooned for long winters in ships unable to properly navigate the frozen sea. 

The most famous of these explorers is Sir John Franklin, whose entire expedition lost their lives seeking out a passage.

With time however the Canadian arctic was charted and the approach to its exploration became more systematic 

It would not be until 1906, that the dream of a navigable arctic channel was realized by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. 

To help in his junrey Amundsen learned skills such as dogsled travel and  the making of fur clothing from the Inuit, which proved invaluable to the success of his voyage.

And Until the Second World War, incoming researchers to the Arctic generally had a good working relationship with the Inuit. 

early scientists were reliant on Inuit to help them survive Arctic conditions and gather important knowledge relating to their studies by living with them and hiring them to help conduct the necessary research. 

Following World War II with the tensions surrounding the Cold War the arctic suddenly took on a strategic importance. 

it became obvious to defence planners that the Arctic would form the front line if another world war broke out. 

It was this development in international relationships that would go on to completely change the lives of the Inuit turning them into geopolitical pawns. 

In August 1953, seven or eight families from Inukjuak, northern Quebec were transported to Grise Fiord on the southern tip of Ellesmere Island and to Resolute on Cornwallis Island

The families were promised better living and hunting opportunities in new communities in the High Arctic.

In reality the islands are extremely barren and some of the most remote points on earth. 

They were joined by three families recruited from the more northern community of Pond Inlet whose purpose was to teach skills for survival in the High Arctic.

The methods of recruitment and the reasons for the relocations have been disputed.

Officially The government stated that the families had agreed to participate in a program to leave areas perceived to be overpopulated with poor hunting conditions in Northern Quebec, in an attempt to reduce their dependence on welfare, and to resume a subsistence lifestyle.

On the other hand  the Inuit reported that the relocations were forced and were motivated by a desire to reinforce Canadian claims to the far northern arctic islands by creating settlements in the area.

Additionally The families were left without sufficient supplies of food, caribou and other materials for making appropriate clothing and tents.

And As they had been moved about 2,000 km to a different ecosystem, they were unfamiliar with the wildlife and had to adjust to the polar day and night cycle that occurs in the far northern latitudes. 

They were however successful in learning the migratory routes of the Beluga whales and managed to adapt. 

In recent years this relocation has come to be perceived as a major inhumane blunder on the part of the Canadian government.  

But there was more going on than just Canada’s colonial ambition to stake its claim over the high arctic island. 

Cambridge Bay with its central location and relative accessibility was made one of the most strategically important places in the North American Arctic defense system.

Nothing changed the lives of Inuinnait more than the Cold War.

The biggest project launched by the American army was the Distant Early Warning Line, a chain of radars that could detect incoming Russian military.  A warning system in case of a soviet air attack. 

The DEW-Line brought hundreds of ships, planes and workers into the Canadian Arctic. 

As well as buildings, steel towers, and all types of construction equipment that soon changed the face of the Arctic.

Inuit were hired to help in the construction of the DEW line. 

As a result, permanent communities started to appear across the arctic. 

The traditional skills of the innuit became less valuable and with the development of the Arctic regions many of the natives forgot their natural abilities to live off the land as they were settled into communities to function as a cohesive local labour force. 

this was especially the case with younger generations of Inuit.  

Who quickly forgot the skills that had been passed on to them from past generations.

They had followed the path towards wage employment and static communities turning their backs on the ancient way of existing 

as a result they also became dependent on the traditional government.  

The American military left in 1963, as their development of the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) diminished the strategic value of the DEW line. 

While some Inuit managed to find work with the various government agencies that moved in, others had to live from casual employment and social assistance. 

With few jobs available, unemployment persisted as a major problem in Nunavut for decades to come.

And In the 1980’s a claim by the forcefully relocated Inuit descendants was made against the Canadian government.

Eventually in 1989, 40 Inuit were returned to their former communities while others, mostly the younger generation, chose to stay in the high arctic. 

And on 18 August 2010 an official government apology was given to those who were affected. 

This is the context of the Inuit living in arctic Canada of today. Many feel resentment for the exploitation of the Inuits that came with the Cold war and for being forcefully divorced from the land and their traditional ways of living. 

This feeling is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that a lot of well paying jobs in the territory tend to go to Canadians from the South who have been able to access education from outside the region and are lured to Nunavut by the prospect of higher wages. 

Nunavut is a unique place with unique people and challenges.

The Integration of Inuit people into a traditional economy is proving to be a challenge to this day made more difficult by the unique geography of the region and the remoteness of the communities.    

In Nunavut, suicide among Inuit is 10 times higher than the national Canadian suicide rate and In 2019, Nunavut’s suicide rate was reported to be the highest in the world.  

Some of this is certainly attributable to the harsh environment and perhaps even cultural norms found in Innuit tradition but is more likely to be a bi-product from the accidental merging of two completely different cultures. 

A slightly more long term problem for Nunavut and arctic regions in general of course is climate change as temperatures in the arctic is rising much faster than anywhere else in the world. 

This means that the people and the animals inhabiting these regions must learn to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape but of course that is nothing new to the inhabitants of the arctic. 

Going to the arctic is probably my number one wish right now, especially after doing a bunch of videos on different places in the arctic. I’m not sure which arctic to go to though, as a European the Norwegian arctic is by far the most accessible to me especially Svalbard. 

Leave a Reply