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Nunavut: History and People


Nunavut has been occupied continuously for more than 4,000 years. Historians have identified the Baffin coast with Norse sagas, however recorded history began in 1576 when Martin Frobisher, on an expedition in search of the fabled Northwest Passage, discovered what he thought was gold on Baffin Island. The ore was worthless and Frobisher's encounters with the Inuit were not friendly. He seized four Inuit in 1576 and 1577 and took them to England where they quickly died. In 1585, John Davis, also in search of the Northwest Passage, explored Cumberland Sound. Henry Hudson followed in 1610.

The Arctic Islands were transferred from Britain to Canada in 1880. In 1903 an official expedition visited the High Arctic and Cumberland Sound exerting Canadian sovereignty. Between 1906 and 1911 the Canadian government dispatched three official voyages to the High Arctic, to show the flag and collect Customs duties from whalers.

The Second World War and the Cold War opened the Canadian Arctic. The United States Air Force built an airfield at Frobisher Bay, now Iqaluit, to handle aircraft transporting war materials to Europe. In 1955 construction began on the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a joint project of Canada and the United States to create an early-warning radar chain to warn of any Soviet incursions.

Inuit leaders articulated the idea for the territory with its own government in the 1970s. Canada's newest territory - Nunavut - came into being on April 1st 1999.


Archeologists divide Nunavut's inhabitants into two distinct but physically related groups: the Paleoeskimo people from at least 4,000 to 700 years ago; and the Neoeskimo people who entered Nunavut some 1,000 years ago.

Nunavut is home to the Inuit who originally inhabited this land, and of the qallunaat (outsiders) who arrived in their changing quests over the centuries, from the search for a sea route westward, for whales, furs and other natural resources, and finally, to stay.

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