The land


PUVIRNITUQ means “putrefied.” It was here that an entire community of Inuit died in a famine one winter; not a single survivor remained to tell of the event. The following spring, the igloos melted, and people found the corpses giving off the odour of putrefaction. The community was named to commemorate the event, although it’s not a very felicitous name for a town.

The first Qallunaat did not arrive in Puvirnituq until 1952. This was about the same time that the Inuit began living in houses. More buildings materials continue to arrive each year. The village of Puvirnituq is growing fast, but the residents are not all prosperous. Items in the stores are more and more expensive, and debts are growing.

The Puvirnituq area is flat, the sea is weak and there are hardly any currents, so it is not possible to harvest mussels, clams and other delicacies from the sea. Since there are no hills, the coastal waters are shallow and people who are unfamiliar with the area are reluctant to navigate there. Still, some boats travel there. There are signal lights that guide them into the village without having to rely on Inuit guides. Johnny Pov used to work as a guide. He died on December 14 1978.

The Puvirniturmiut (inhabitants of Puvirnituq) speak their traditional language. Very few of them speak English, but some are studying French. The Inuit population of Puvirnituq numbers about 1000. The village has two churches, an Anglican one and a Catholic one, but there is no priest at the moment. There is also a hospital with three or four doctors and about a hundred employees, Inuit and non-Inuit. There are also four experienced midwives; many women from the Hudson Bay area travel to Puvirnituq to have their babies.

There are two stores in Puvirnituq, the Co-operative and the Northern Store, which replaced the Hudson’s Bay Company. There is also a museum, with a display of traditional tools from our ancestors. It was inaugurated on August 31st 1978 by Camille Laurin, the minister of Native Affairs at the time, when the Parti Québécois was in power. The museum is now closed for renovation [1].

The residents of Puvirnituq refused to sign the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. In 1975, other Inuit rushed to Québec City to sign the agreement, which was never signed on Nunavik territory.

This is why the Puvirniturmiut said no. They did not want to renounce their values or their ancestral lands, and they objected to the territory being used as a research location by people from another culture. Besides, the Inuit hunted and gathered their food over a very large area on both land and sea.

Today, the Inuit get along better together and are working together to develop Nunavik; but at the time of the Agreement, in 1975, violent verbal battles were fought.

Many Puvirniturmiut own dogteams and still use them. The Inuit of Nunavik are happy in their treeless territory, because they are free go hunting wherever they want. They refuse to see their territory destroyed by development, especially the construction of hydroelectric dams.

by Taamusi Qumaq (1992)

[1] Unfortunately, the museum was closed down in July, 1993 after Taamusi’s death. The collections were saved, but the building was destroyed. Avataq and the municipality foresee the possibility of building a new exhibition space for the Saputik collection.