Nunatsiavut

The Inuit here are direct descendants of the prehistoric Thule hunters who spread from Alaska across the circumpolar regions of Canada and Greenland. They are one of the founding peoples of Canada.

Nunatsiavut is probably the least known Inuit region in Canada. It has a really interesting and unusual history. It is populated by the Labradorimiut in the North. The Innu Indians (often confused with the Inuit) live mainly in southern Labrador.

Inuit and Indians have lived here for thousands of years, but in the 1500’s and 1600’s, the Basque from Spain came here to hunt whales and to fish. Many other fishermen and whalers followed from different European countries, including Norway, Holland and England.

Lab-Map

The Labradorimiut language has a distinct writing system. It was created by missionaries from the Moravian Church in Greenland and Germany that first arrived in 1752. Their spoken dialect is also quite distinctive mainly due to the fact that they are quite isolated in Nunatsiavut from other Inuit. The Moravians created communities along the coast. They taught the Inuit to read and write, thereby making them some of the most literate people in Canada at that time. This newly acquired knowledge allowed them to create some of the first written works by Inuit, mainly diaries and letters, including a famous diary by Abraham Ulrikab. He, along with his family, was to become a zoo exhibit in Europe in 1880 as an attraction at the HamburgGermany Public Zoo.

It is unclear exactly how many Inuit there are in Nunatsiavut. But there were approximately 5,300 members of the Labrador Inuit Association, which no longer exists. This included Inuit and Kablunângajuit, people of mixed Inuit and European origin who have lived in Labrador for a long time.

Until recently, the Labradormiut have been some of the poorest aboriginal peoples in Canada. They lived mainly off the seal hunt which now has been almost stopped, due to the interference by outside groups who do not understand the importance of the seal hunt for the Inuit.

The move towards creating Nunatsiavut started in 1977, when the Labrador Inuit filed a claim to the 72,500 square kilometers of northern Labrador; they did not obtain full rights to this entire area but have resource rights to the entire area.

After many years of negotiations, a deal was reached in 2001, an agreement in principle was ratified on May 26, 2004, which protects Inuit traditional usage of the settlement area in Labrador. Inuit now wield significant economic and self-government rights, especially as Inuit gained considerable control over the coastline of Labrador, which is essential to local economy, mainly sealing and fishing. This laid the foundation for the Nunatsiavut government which came into being on Dec 1, 2005. Nunatsiavut means “Our Beautiful Land”. Nunatsiavut is still part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This is the last land-claims agreement concerning the Inuit to be signed in Canada. With the Nunatsiavut government, the Labradormiut are now able to continue their traditional use of the land for hunting and fishing and can also maintain their economic and self-government rights. As part of the self-government, they have the rights to pass their own laws, control health, education and justice services and maintain their culture and language.

Town of Nain, Newfoudland and Labrador

Town of Nain, Newfoudland and Labrador

The five community governments in Nunatsiavut are Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik, and Rigolet. The capital is in Hopedale.

The 2006 Canadian census accounted for 2,414 inhabitants in Nunatsiavut; but there are also over 2000 Inuit and Kablunângajuit who live outside the actual Nunatsiavut region but still live in Labrador (compared to 505,469 total in Newfoundland and Labrador).

Town of Hebron, Newfoudland and Labrador

Town of Hebron, Newfoudland and Labrador

The land in Nunatsiavut ranges from boreal forest in the south with woodlands that are a mixture of spruce and tamarack. Moving towards the North, the boreal forest becomes taiga with a mixture of spruce trees and “barren ground” shrubs and plants.

In the northern part of Nunatsiavut, there is tundra with moss, lichen and small shrubs. It is also here the fabled Torngat Mountains are found which are said to be inhabited by the spirits of the Inuit’s ancestors. This area is now designated as the Torngat Mountains National Park, a Canadian national park. The Torngat Mountains cover 30,067 square kilometres, including lowland areas and extend over 300 km from Cape Chidley in the north to Hebron Fjord in the south. The Torngat Mountains have the highest peaks in eastern continental Canada.

Hopedale during blizzard Courtesy of Hans Blohm

Hopedale during blizzard
Image © hans-ludwig blohm c.m. mpa