Nunavut Culture

For decades after Europeans came in southern Canada, Nunavut’s vast geography and harsh environment allowed the region’s small inuit population to continue living as nomads and supporting themselves as hunters and fisherman. About 65% of Nunavut’s population speaks Inuktitut as their native language. The Inuit of Nunavut have preserved their exquisite carving techniques, original musical compositions, and Inuktitut language.


It’s possible that Nunavut’s wide landscape and sparse people have always been there, but the inuit have lived there for at least four thousand years. Around 500 years ago, Inuit people shifted their subsistence focus from hunting whales to hunting seals and caribou. The best way to learn about Inuit culture is to visit the Nunatta Sunaqutangit Museum (212 Building, Iqaluit) on days when local elders give presentations.

Although archaeological findings of European artefacts near cape banfield in 2008 have led some to speculate that the viking explorers who briefly stayed in northern Newfoundland about the year 1000 made it as far north as baffin island, this has not been proved. In 1576, on his search for the Northwest Passage, the English explorer Martin frobisher arrived in what is now known as Nunavut. He claimed to have discovered gold ore in the area of the bay that now bears his name.

In the 16th century, Robert Bylot, Henry Hudson, and William Baffin all explored the Arctic in search of the mythical Northwest Passage to Asia’s wealth. No European, however, would make the crossing by sea until the 1903–1905 expedition of the Norwegian explorer roald amundsen. At the Northwest Passage Trail, tourists can find out more about Amundsen and his interactions with the local Inuit (gjoa haven).

For generations, the inuit lived according to their ancient customs, but that all changed in the early 1950s, when the Canadian government forcibly moved numerous tribes from northern Quebec to two remote high arctic villages known as Grize Fiord and Resolute. Many of them went hungry and struggled to settle into their new homes permanently. It wasn’t until 2010 that the government issued an official apology for its role.

It wasn’t until 1992 that all of the official agreements were finalised about the creation of an independent inuit territory, despite discussions surrounding this issue began in 1976. In 1993, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act was signed into law, and by 1999, the territory of Nunavut had been added to Canada’s map. While the first decade of Nunavut’s independence was marked by challenges, the pride of its people has never wavered, and the future of the territory has never looked brighter.


The Inuit of Nunavut have done an outstanding job of preserving their culture. The official language of the territory of Nunavut is Inuktitut, and the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation is based there. Soapstone carving, throat singing, and dancing to the rhythm of old drums are all still actively practised in modern-day Nunavut.

However, modern media has also been a focus for the inuit of nunavut. European instruments such as the fiddle and accordion have been incorporated into American styles of music. Three settlements in Nunavut have access to animation seminars provided by the Nunavut Animation Lab, and the artcirq circus company from Igloolik has performed at the 2010 Winter Olympics and all over the world. Tanya Tagaq is a throat singer who has worked with artists such as Björk and the Kronos Quartet.


Indigenous people have lived in Nunavut without interruption for over 4, 000 years. It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt by geneticists and archaeologists that the ancestors of modern-day Inuit lived in the region bounded by the Bering Strait, which connects Asia and North America. Around 2500 B.C., a group of people who would later be known as Paleo-Eskimos crossed the Bering Strait and settled in what is now the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. They then travelled across the entirety of Nunavut in pursuit of marine mammals and herds of large game land animals all the way to Greenland.

Culture of the Paleo-Eskimos

Before the ancient Thule and current Inuit arrived, the Arctic was populated by Paleo-Eskimo people from Chukotka in modern-day Russia across North America to Greenland. Around 2500 B.C., Nunavut became home to the earliest documented Paleo-Eskimo society.

He was identified as a member of the Saqqaq people of Greenland. DNA analysis suggests that his ancestors first arrived in North America from Siberia some 5,000 years ago, and then spread to Greenland around 500 years later. This ancient man, who has been given the name “Inuk,” had an A+ blood type and genes that indicated he was acclimated to cold temperatures. He also had brown eyes, brownish complexion, dark hair, and, in his old age, he was likely to experience male pattern baldness.

Paleo-Eskimo ancestry can be traced back to ancient Nunavut, where the Pre-Dorset and Dorset cultures flourished. Before the Thule, the progenitors of the Inuit, migrated east from what is now Alaska, the Dorset people were the dominant Paleo-Eskimo society in the Arctic.

Cultural Ancestry Before the Dorset Period

During the years 2500–500 BCE, a Paleo-Eskimo civilisation known as the Pre-Dorset flourished on the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and northern Greenland. Both “Dorset” and “Pre-Dorset” are geographical place names that refer to a region on Baffin Island called Cape Dorset. In 1925, Canadian anthropologist Diamond Jenness determined that several artefacts found there belonged to the mysterious “Dorset” culture.

They threw harpoons at seals, walruses, and small whales near the coast from the shore and sea ice. Temporary communities were formed up with skin tents and possibly snow homes for permanent living quarters. Some archaeologists refer to the people of the Pre-Dorset culture and the adjacent Denbigh Flint Complex in Alaska as belonging to the ‘Arctic Small Tool tradition,’ so named because of the unusually small cutting edges they chiselled out of stone tools and weapons. Around 500 B.C., they evolved into the Dorset people.


Before the advent of the Thule people in Nunavut around 1500 AD, a Paleo-Eskimo-descended society known as the Dorset culture (also known as the Dorset Tradition) flourished there. Some anthropologists speculate that the current Inuit are at least culturally and maybe biologically connected to the ancient Dorset through interaction with the more evolved Thule society, and possibly also through intermarriage.

Unique triangular blades, soapstone lanterns, and burins (tools for engraving) were all products of their craftsmanship. It is widely accepted among academics that the Dorset (and later the Thule) interacted with the Norse seafarers who frequented Baffin Island between the years 1000 and 1450. Skaeling was a derogatory term used by the Vikings, but these individuals managed to outlive the old Norse!

In any case, by the year 1500 A.D., the Dorset were practically extinct. Due to their inability to flourish during the Medieval Warm Period (950–1250 AD), the majority of them were pushed out of their traditional lands and replaced by the more advanced Thule people. In some Inuit myths, the people the Inuit today name “Tuniit” or “Sivullirmiut” were once a threat that had to be exterminated (first inhabitants). Folklore among the Inuit describes them as frightened, cowardly giants despite being larger and stronger than the Thule.

There are no surviving members of the Dorset people today. On Coats, Walrus, and Southampton Islands in Hudson Bay, close to the current-day Nunavut city of Coral Harbour, lived a small, isolated community of Dorset called the Sallirmiut until the winter of 1902-1903. DNA analysis showed these folks to be direct descendants of the Dorset tribe.

The people of Dorset developed advanced methods of hunting and toolmaking.


All present Inuit can trace their ancestry back to the Thule, also known as proto-Inuit. By the year 1000 A.D., they had already established themselves along the Alaskan coast, and by the 13th century, they had spread throughout Canada and into Greenland. In doing so, they displaced the older Dorset culture who had been residing there.

Thule and Inuit share genetic, cultural, and linguistic ties.

The Thule (and to a lesser extent the Dorset) communicated with the Norse, who had arrived on Canadian coastlines by the year 1000 AD, as has been shown by archaeological evidence. This native Nunavut group is referred to as “Skrling” in the Viking Sagas.

During their ‘Second Expansion’ or ‘Second Phase,’ some Thule people moved southward. The Thule ruled over the whole region now populated by the Central Inuit between the years 1200 and 1300. By the year 1400 A.D., the Thule had successfully supplanted the majority of the Dorset civilisation. Thule customs were upended as contact with Europeans increased in the 18th century. Many Thule villages disintegrated as a result of the Little Ice Age (1650 AD – 1850 AD), and this indigenous, nomadic people came to be known as Eskimo and, subsequently, Inuit by Europeans and Americans.

Traditional Thule tools include slate knives, umiaks, sealskin floats, and toggling harpoons. They had more advanced technology than the Dorset people. The Thule culture relied heavily on marine creatures, specifically, for sustenance.

Even while many Thule communities contained more than a dozen dwellings, they were rarely home to more than fifty people at any given time. Their homes were made out of whalebone frameworks that were covered in hides and sod. Food cache sites, kayak stands, hunting blinds, fox traps, and other artefacts from these ancient Thule buildings may be discovered all throughout Nunavut.

Culture of the Inupiat

The name “Inuit” comes from the Inuktitut language and means “people” or “humans” in English. The original inhabitants of the territory of Nunavut, as well as those of Greenland and Alaska, are collectively referred to by this term.

Hunting, fishing, and trapping have long been crucial to their way of life. The vast tundra landscapes and cold shores spanning the northern hemisphere from Siberia to Greenland were never suitable for agriculture. Attempts at farming by ancient Greenlanders Norsemen were fruitless.

There is no Inuit way of life without hunting. Modern Inuit communities, some of which were only founded in the last few decades, continue to reflect the 5,000-year-old history of a nomadic hunter-gatherer tradition that allowed the Inuit people and their great ancestors to accomplish one of the most remarkable human achievements of all time: the successful population of the Arctic!

The Inuit themselves reject the derogatory epithet “Eskimo,” which is nonetheless used by certain Europeans and Americans. The correct Inuktitut phrase for the Inuit is “Inuit,” the name they call themselves and the plural word for all Inuit people, which was taken by European colonists and explorers from an older Algonquin name. Inuit people are referred to as “Inuk” when speaking Inuktitut.

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