Nunavik: Building on the Knowledge of Ancestors
Robyn Bryant, Avataq Cultural Institute
Nunavik, which means "the place where we live" in Inuktitut, is one of Canada's four Inuit regions. Lying north of the 55th parallel in the province of Québec, Nunavik stretches over more than 500,000 km2 of environmental wonders, including rocky tundra patterned with fresh water rivers and lakes, mountains and many offshore islands. Nunavik's boundaries were defined by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) signed in 1975 by the Nunavimmiut (Inuit of Nunavik), the Crees, the Quebec government and the Canadian government.
Nunavimmiut have lived in Nunavik for millennia. Our ancestors migrated here from Alaska, and our fellow Inuit can be found in arctic regions from Siberia to Greenland. Nunavimmiut once lived a nomadic lifestyle, relying on the land and sea for subsistence. First contact with Europeans, mainly with explorers, occurred early in the 17th century and intensified as whalers, traders and missionaries arrived in the area. With the establishment of trading posts, Inuit obtained European goods to supplement their seasonal food harvesting in exchange for furs. Beginning in the mid-1950s the Canadian and Quebec governments created permanent settlements with nursing stations and schools. The Inuit gradually moved off the land and into southern-style housing.
Today, Nunavik has a population of approximately 10,000 Inuit living in 14 communities along the coasts of Ungava Bay, Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay. Nunavimmiut have adopted some characteristics of a sedentary lifestyle, blending them with traditional culture. Fishing, hunting and sewing remain essential elements of Inuit daily life alongside microwaves, snowmobiles and the Internet. Inuktitut remains the dominant language, and is used daily in business, homes, schools and political organizations.
As Inuit, we maintain a strong connection to our ancestors. Objects from our past, such as tools and clothing carefully crafted from animal skins and bones, illustrate the ingenious ways that the Nunavimmiut have lived and thrived in their environment. Their will to survive and their joy in living have carried over into modern-day Nunavik. Far from being assimilated into the larger North American society, Nunavimmiut today are building on the knowledge the ancestors accumulated over millennia to carry us forward as modern Inuit. Our culture and our language continue to be the key elements of our survival.