The land

The Region of Nunavik

The vast area of Northern Québec now known as Nunavik [the place where we live] extends over 560,000 square kilometres. For approximately 4000 years, various human groups occupied this territory. The Inuit arrived in the Canadian Arctic 700 to 800 years ago and now inhabit the entire circumpolar region.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, the arrival in the North of the Qallunaat (the Inuit word for Whites) profoundly changed the Inuit traditional way of life. Before the arrival of European and American whalers, missionaries, and especially fur traders, the Inuit lived a nomadic way of life.

In the 1950s, new governmental services — especially with regards to education, health and social assistance — had the effect of forcing the Inuit to become sedentary, and their way of life changed dramatically.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Québec government gradually took over from Ottawa the task of providing services to the Inuit. At the same time, the Inuit were in the process of finding ways to reaffirm their identity and manage their own destiny, and this led to the signing, in 1975, of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The agreement gave the Inuit broad responsibilities over economic and social development, education, environment and management of the region.

There are no better descriptions of the region of Nunavik than in the writings of Taamusi Qumaq, an Inuit elder who, throughout his life, played a leading role among his people, and earned their respect and affection.

Among his accomplishments, Taamusi Qumaq helped establish the cooperative in Puvirnituq, was a vocal opponent of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, served on the task forces on education and on justice, and created a museum in his community dedicated to Inuit traditions. He also wrote and published both an encyclopedia and a dictionary of the Inuktitut language. In recognition of his contributions, Taamusi Qumaq was awarded numerous honors, including the Polar Prize for scientific research, the Order of Canada, the Order of Quebec, and the Centennial Medal. Taamusi Qumaq died in 1993, at the age of 79. Now we will let Taamusi’s own words speak for themselves, as he describes his native land and his people.

«I would like to talk to you about the names the Inuit have given to the places they inhabit today; the place names of Nunavik are far too numerous, however, for me to mention them all [1] . The reason there are so many names attached to our territory is that our ancestors used them to identify and recognize the places they visited. »

Texte par Taamusi Qumaq (1992)

Source: McCaffrey, Moira et al. Wrapped in the Colours of the Earth. McCord Museum of Canadian History, Montréal, 1992, p. 104-124. Reproduced with the permission of the McCord Museum.

[1] The Inuit population figures quoted in the next section date from 1992. Since then, all the communities have grown. For further information on Inuit place names, consult Müller-Wille 1987.