Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

ARCHIVED - LAC Forum on Canadian Democracy

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Past Events

Special Events

Nunavut 10th Anniversary Celebration

Storytelling and the Land, Part 2

Video [FLV 103,212 KB]

Downloadable formats

Download Adobe Flash Player


Gisèle Jacob: This brings our session on storytelling to an end. We'll now talk about mapping and naming the land, another important aspect of Inuit culture. Naming the land, places, holds a different kind of story. So we'll start by listening to Isabelle Charron who will introduce us to historical maps of Nunavut and the north. She's an archivist here at Library and Archives Canada, specializing in cartography. She's also worked at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and has received a master's degree from the University of Ottawa. Thank you to our presenters, earlier presenters, and now Isabelle.

Isabelle Charron: Bonjour. It's a very rich history that covers more than 500 years. I cannot summarize 500 years in a few minutes, so we have to make some choices, and since we're talking about older maps, we won't deal with the 19th or 20th century but with the two golden ages of the exploration of the Arctic, the 19th century and the 16th and 17th century. I will answer your questions in English after. Since 1972, the Library has been collecting older maps, globes and atlases that give us information about the evolution of parts of Canada. The Alexander MacDonald includes several maps of the Canadian Arctic including the present Nunavut Territory. The Europeans explored the parts of Nunavut and since they had no mapping tradition they did not leave any maps before the 16th century. And so before that they were just imaginary representations. It's in the context of the greater discoveries that mapping started, really because, as in the south, they wanted to look for resources, especially precious metals, and the search for the Northwest Passage has been the origin of the development of mapping in the Arctic. And so many explores will come, especially British explorers like Frobisher who travelled the Arctic between 1576-1578. Frobisher is known for having left his name Frobisher Bay and also he's known for having used a mineral that he believed contained gold but it did not. It was a failure. It contained marcasite. Then there were other explorers. The Davis Straights between Nunavut and Greenland is named by one of those explorers. None of his maps survived but the geographical information was reproduced on other maps, prepared by Edward Wright and Emeri Molineux. In 1610, Henry Hudson went to the Northwest Passage and that winter Hudson faced mutiny and disappeared from [5:08 inaudible] continued to travel and went back to England, and it's thanks to Hudson that the Hudson Bay was represented on maps and it allowed England to claim that territory. All the original maps of Hudson have disappeared, but there are later maps representing his discoveries on a map especially entitled Tabula Nautica, which is part of our collection here. This map will be used as a model by other mappers for more than 150 years. Samuel de Champlain was the first to reproduce the Hudson Bay on his own map of New France in 1612. William Baffin went to Hudson Bay and concluded that it did not lead to the west. He prepared some maps and one of those maps is being kept in the British Library. Contemporaries of Baffin did not believe all his discoveries and the result was that at the beginning of the 19th century people were still doubting his conclusions. But he made known Baffin Island and the Bay and also Bylot Bay, which was important for the time because Robert Bylot accompanied Baffin in his travels. After Baffin, the interest of English financiers for the Arctic was fading and explorations in the 17th and 18th century is summarized in another document in the Atlas Maritimus in 1698, and we have one copy of that atlas.

The 18th century is, at that time as far as exploration of the Canadian Arctic is concerned. At the beginning of the 19th century then mapping started again. Before the 19th century, explorations in the Arctic were led by economic interests. Scientific curiosity then became more important. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the British Marines had a surplus of ships, and so they decided to use those ships in order to find, once and for all, the Northwest Passage. And so they started exploring the Canadian Arctic again in 1818 under the initiative of the Second Secretary of the British Admiralty, John Barrow. Barrow published the same year an important map summarizing the state of knowledge about that territory, that is part of the collection of the Library here. There are other maps, which could be mentioned, but there are too many to be mentioned here. The most important explorations of that time are those of John Franklin, John Ross and William Edward Parry. In 1818, Ross was the commander of Parry. Even if he managed to confirm several of the discoveries of Baffin, he was criticized because he believed he had seen mountains and he represented those on a map published in 1818 and those mountains did not exist, and it led to an important quarrel between Ross and Perry. Despite that, he completed several other trips in the Arctic and stayed four years in the Arctic from 1829 and he was close to disappearing then but the Inuit population saved him and his team.

The Inuit started doing some mapping, also. Parry, as far as he's concerned, made some major discoveries that he summarized in a book published in 1821 including several maps, and we have several copies of those books. Even though he did not find the Northwest Passage, the second trip allowed him to map part of the coast from Southampton Island up to Baffin Island. In 1822, the winter of 1822, Parry came back to the Arctic, met with the Inuit and asked them to do some mapping. The Inuit, of course, knew that territory better than anyone and had an extremely acute sense of geography, and so they helped a lot, Perry, and other explorers later on. And that can be seen in Perry's book of 1824. Perry made several other trips and published many other books later on. In 1819, Franklin, who had mapped more than 300 kilometers of the coast then with his team, they made mapping progress through an expedition that was supposed to last three years, but they did not come back, and so from 1859 - 1860, then several other trips were started to try and find them. And those who looked for them allowed us to get a better knowledge of the area and since the issue interested the public, several maps were published by commercial publishers like John Arrowsmith and others. He published seven different versions of his "Map of the Counties around the North Pole" between 1818 and 1859. In 1875-76, another version of this map was published. Other than private publishers, British publishers also published several maps through the British Admiralty and some marine maps. And we have an excellent collection of some of those maps.

In 1880 the British government cedes the Archipelago to Canada and then explorers came from other countries: The U.S. and Norway. And Canadian authorities encouraged Canadian explorers to go back to the Arctic at the end of the 18th century and 19th century. And one of the most important explorers is Joseph Bernier, and we have several of his documents. So I will stop here because it might be much longer but this is the end of my presentation, and thank you very much for your attention, and if you have any questions I am willing to answer in both languages. Thank you very much.


Gisèle Jacob: Merci beaucoup, Isabelle. We will have a question and answer session, a short one, after the presentation of our next speaker. So if you do have questions for Isabelle, please keep them for that session. Our next speaker is Kowesa Etitiq, who will discuss the traditional way of naming the land. He is a principle partner and project manager of Sunburst Consulting and has worked for many northern institutions including the Government of Nunavut, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. I ask you to welcome Kowesa Etitiq.


Kowesa Etitiq: Good afternoon. I am originally from Iqaluit but I currently live in Ottawa. Peter Irniq and I teach an Inuit Awareness course. It's a one-day general information on Inuit, we call it "From Dog's teams to the Internet: Resiliency and Change." I think if people are interested, this would be a good course to learn something about Inuit culture and society. I'd just like to start by saying it's an honour to be here today to mark the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Nunavut Territory. But we must remember that the land claim was signed over 16 years ago, and I would also like to thank Library and Archives, the Forum on Canadian Democracy, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs at Carleton University for holding this event. I remember the excitement of forging ahead on our own, and it will be ten years, soon, since the creation of Nunavut and the realization of a dream for many Inuit. Many Inuit worked hard for over 30 years for this dream to come true. We are determining our own path and protecting our traditions and culture for the generations to come. As most of you already know, Nunavut means "our land" in Inuktitut, in the language of the Inuit. This name in itself embodies what the Inuit feel about the space they occupy. This is our land: Nunavut.

Today I'm going to be talking about some of the traditional naming practices in Nunavut, as well as highlighting some of the history behind some of the names we have today, and I'll be discussing mainly the area I'm from, which is Iqaluit. We still have the bay… it's still called Frobisher Bay from 1576, and I'll be using some of the photographs from the Library and Archives Canada collection. At the end of my presentation I'm going to ask Dr. Peter Irniq, the former Commissioner of Nunavut, to discuss some of the significant place names and areas around Nunavut and also to help answer some questions. I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of the Inuit Heritage Trust, which has been tasked with documenting and acknowledging the traditional Inuit place names in Nunavut. I assure you with two million square kilometres of area to cover, this is not a small task. The Inuit Heritage Trust was born from the Land Claim Agreement, with a mandate to document from the elders in the communities, the names that they use for the areas in which they live, hunt and travel. I really like the following quote I'm going to read. It's from the Inuit Heritage Trust. I feel that it comes closest to how we use and name the land. "For Inuit in Nunavut there are thousands of names for geographical features for the land. There are names for wherever people traveled, hunted and spent time on the land. The traditional names for places illustrate a rich history of land use and occupation in Nunavut. The names are descriptive of the places, offer information about the animals that could be hunted there, the hazards of thin ice, safe or dangerous harbours, nesting sites, the availability of fresh water or plants or berries. In short, the traditional names for places provide a kind of inventory of the land providing information about the key Inuit knowledge of the land. Many of these traditional names, however, are known only to a few elders in each community." And that's from Inuit Heritage Trust 2002. Today, Inuit still use many of the traditional place names when they are traveling and hunting on the land. These have been passed on to us from our elders. Although there are many ways of assigning place names, we see four distinct ways Inuit named their places of use and importance:

  1. Geographic distinctions. Inuit would name areas based on what they were as in Qikitajuarq, for big island or what they look like, as in Iviagnit, breast for a mountain that was shaped like a breast.
  2. Harvesting activities. Many places signify the animals or the fish that may be caught there or signify good berry picking areas or an area with a particular geographic feature that was useful. A couple of examples are Nunatalik, a place where there are bears, Qayaquvik, a place to store the kayaks for the winter.
  3. Spiritual or a cultural significance. Many place names were derived from the spiritual importance of the area or reflect an event of significance in that particular location. A couple of examples will be Inukshulik, a place with many Inukshuk signifying a special place for harvesting or a place of Inuit spirituality, places of power.
  4. Another one would be Nadlukuvik where caribou cross at the narrowest point along the river. Another way that Inuit assign place names is for seasonal features. Names for reoccurring seasonal conditions are also common in our language. Sinaaq, flow edge for instance, means open water on the ice. This is where we hunt seals in the winter. Ikirasakuutaq, a long narrow channel. Some islands were named because of taboos. As an example I would like to tell you about… [silence - 21:25 ] I got concentrating on reading my presentation.

So for a taboo, we have one in Frobisher Bay. It's called Iluaqut, which means it's a place where Inuit women would store their sanitary monthly… stuff, usually made from rabbit skin because they couldn't leave it on the ice. That would be a taboo. It would offend the goddess of the sea. These were deposited on the land, so there'd be a small island closest to the flow edge, I guess, and the women would go deposit this waste over there. Another story from my area is called Anarquatsiaq Island, in Iqaluit. It's actually the first island in Koojesse Inlet just in Frobisher Bay outside of Iqaluit. The story goes that a girl named Anarquatsiaq was deemed crazy and dangerous to the community so her father brought her to an island that had no people on it but was close enough to the community that he could still care for her hence the Island was called Anarquatsiaq. On clear nights some say you can still hear Anarquatsiaq screaming for her father to come get her from the island. The local Inuit refer to this as Anarquatsiaq but it's also now commonly known as Dog Island by the newcomers, so called because dog teams would be left on the island during the summers.

Everything we needed to survive came from our environment: our food, our clothing and our tools. This intensive and life-giving relationship with the land required that many places within an area be named for their connection to our food procurement activities, the seasons and the life cycles of the animals. Inuit used the land throughout all four seasons for hunting, fishing and gathering for subsistence. The traditional naming of areas shows the extent of the use of the land by Inuit. For example I would like to refer to Cumberland Sound where the community of [24:12 Buniarktuk] is. In Cumberland Sound alone there are 500 Inuit place names for hunting, camping and other areas that we use for various purposes. Five hundred names, and on the official maps there's only 36 place names, so it really goes to show the intense use of the land by Inuit. Inuit shared knowledge about the land using oral history through our elders and community members. This knowledge is rich in history and practical information such as different areas for hunting, in which seasons and camping, as well as information passed on about significant historical events or activities. You can't do a presentation about Iqaluit, Frobisher Bay, without mentioning Sir Martin Frobisher, unfortunately, but that's a fact. Unlike European place names, you won't find many places named after people. We were much too practical for that. It seems as if we needed to convey a message or some information through the naming process. It seems ironic that the majority of the world refers to Inuit places by different names than the people who actually lived there and used the land. The Inuit of Nunavut are in the process of recording traditional Inuit place names. Inuit had sporadic contact with the Europeans since about 1000 with the Norse, but the first documented contact between Inuit and Europeans was in 1576 with Sir Martin Frobisher with the Inuit of Iqaluit area, and he met Nugumiut. The stories are still told among the Inuit of Iqaluit about our history and the meeting of Sir Martin Frobisher, who had accidentally sailed into our bay. He thought it was a straight that would lead him to Cathay, to China. The meetings with Sir Martin Frobisher did not go very well. He kidnapped three of our people and brought them to Europe where they subsequently died of European diseases they were not immune to. He also left behind five sailors, who failed to make it back to the ship on time. These sailors, we are told, lived amongst us for two years, and with our help they survived. They then built a home-made boat and set sail for England, never to be seen again by either Inuit or Qallunaat, which is white man. In Frobisher's version of events, he says that we kidnapped his people. This was not the only mistake he made. Sir Martin Frobisher also made three voyages to Frobisher Bay to mine what he thought was gold and what turned out to be iron pyrite, fool's gold. Many tons of this worthless rock were mined and brought back to England between 1576 and 1578, but once it was deemed worthless it was used to build walls and roads in England. The Inuit called the island that Frobisher and his men mined Qallunaat Island, but in your maps it's referred to as [Kudlunarn] Island. The American explorer, Charles Frances Hall, was brought there between 1860 and 1862 by his Inuit guides Ippirvik and Tookoolitoo. This was the first time in almost 300 years that a Qallunaat, a white person, had come back to that island. Hall was exploring and recording names for areas in Frobisher Bay and became one of the most prolific foreigners at naming Inuit areas, mostly with non-Inuit names. Ippirvik and Tookoolitoo were very famous. They guided Charles Francis Hall; they drew maps for him; they taught him how to speak Inuktitut. Charles Francis Hall, his main goal was to look for Franklin ships, so he stopped in Frobisher Bay to learn, to document and to map this area. Another question that comes up when you talk about Charles Francis Hall is there is a place in Frobisher Bay called Angijugaat Mountain, Boss Man Mountain in English. But in English it's referred to as Presidents Mountain. Charles Francis Hall first recorded the English name in 1860, having travelled with Ippirvik and Tookoolitoo as guides and as his geographic resource. Was Charles Francis Hall referring to the Inuit name of Angijugaat when he named the mountain Presidents Mountain, or did he name it after the American president at the time, Abraham Lincoln, and the Inuit made a literal translation? Another one of Hall's legacies is Iqaluit's harbour, which is called Koojesse Inlet. Koojesse was an Inuk who was recognized as having extensive geographic knowledge of the bay, and his skills as a hunter and traveler were widely known. He made several hand-drawn maps of the bay for Charles Francis Hall.

I'm just going to read a quote that I found very powerful. To me it embodies what place names mean today. It's from Lorie Idlout. She said it in 2002. "I was thinking about place names and how we're using them now and how we used to back then. Back then it was a means for survival to know our place names. I find it quite ironic now that we're using place names as a means of survival for our language and our culture rather than it just being a matter of our physical survival."

In conclusion, the process of recording and changing of place names to the original Inuit names is a form of decolonization, taking back ownership of our lands with our own names for them. Nunavut was always about Inuit governing themselves. One of the most important features of Nunavut, what one of the fundamental goals is the preservation and promotion of our language and culture. When we attach our own names to our places of significance, we are not only marking that space, we are preserving our culture and history. We are, most importantly, passing on information to the next generation through our naming process, and by using new technologies such as Google Earth to share Inuit place names and their meanings are just a mouse click away. I think we need to use both oral history and the new technologies with the youth in preserving and promoting these names. This is a redeeming and empowering experience for us. The words we use for our place names will continue to live in our oral history, and now we can continue to look forward to seeing the proper Inuit names added to our maps and to places like Google Earth. Nakurmiik. Thank you.


I'm going to ask Dr. Peter Irniq to say a few words about significant place names within Nunavut.

Dr. Peter Irniq: Thank you Kowesa, and thank you to all of you. All the places that we have in our homelands, no matter where we are within the Inuit homelands for example are all to do with surviving, survival of people. The second point that I wanted to make was where Inuit come from. How we describe Inuit and how they know themselves as Inuit where they come from. Let me sort of work my way from Western Nunavut. Inuit who call themselves Inuitnak in Western Nunavut, we refer to them as [33:54 Inuktitut word]. People who live in [Taluktuak] are traditionally known as [34:02 Inuktitut word}, and those are the people that are known by other Inuit as [34:09 Taktulikmiut], which translates to people who come from a place where there is abundance of seals. On the other hand… that was my father's land… on the other hand my ancestry from recent naming of Black River, we have always known them as [34:37 Inuktitut word], a place where abundance of soap stone material is available for making cooking pots. [34:51 inaudible]. Place where I come from, Naujaat, Kivallik. Kivallik is the entire region that we know ourselves, we have always called ourselves as Kivallikmiut, the place where there are walruses. This is the name… these are the kind of names that we've known other people for many, many thousands of years. Inuit name landscapes with the way they look. For example, I speak of my home town of Naujaat. Some people call it today Seagulls. It sort of means seagulls, but it really means seagull fledglings. There is a hill about a mile away, just north of Naujaat that is the nesting place for seagulls, Naujaat. So we call this community Naujaat. When we refer to South Baffin in Inuktitut, the traditional Inuit name that we call it is [36:04 Inuktitut word], meaning the ones that are on the protected side of the big mountains. [36:12 inaudible]. So this is the way we, the Inuit, have always named our landscapes. I grew up with names in Naujaat where we used to live. There is a little place called [Iqalukpereniuk], a place that has little bit of fish, and it's for survival. You can survive there. You could go out fishing and you can catch fish there. There is a place called [36:46 Tasirkjuak], big huge lake, where people used to travel, in my family's case to go and travel on this big long lake about 40 miles long, to go into the caribou country in the summer time. My ancestors traveled there by kayak, and by the way the kayak was invented by Inuit, and it was not made in British Columbia originally. Kayak was invented by Inuit many, many thousands of years ago for transportation and hunting purposes and things like that. So in this place called [37:22 Tasirkjuak], big lake, we used to go inland in order to get into a caribou country for survival. There is another place called Inukshulik, a place where there are lots of inukshuik in Naujaat area. This place is significant to Inuit for thousands of years because it's situated along the coast and there used to be plenty of seals where Inuit used to survive from. There is a place called, okay, there is a place called, for example, in Naujaat region, [38:07 Avelik region], [38:10 inaudible] but [38:11 inaudible]. It means the same thing: a place where there is plenty of material for making cooking pots. This is to do with soap stone, and it's a place where Inuit used to live many, many thousands of years ago, and more recently it's been made into a national park in Canada, which is something that we are very proud of. So Inuit named the landscapes, lands, with the way they look, and they are always for survival, for animals that are there, fish that is there and marine mammals that are there. Qujannamiik. Thank you. Merci.


Gisèle Jacob: Thank you very much for an interesting presentation to both of you, all three of you actually. I realize I'm now cutting into what should be a break, but I will allow for a question or two if some of you want to ask a question of one of our panellists here. Yes, go ahead.

Audience Member: My question is for Kowesa. I'm really intrigued about the traditional Inuit mapping techniques. Could you tell me more about them?

Kowesa Etitiq: I think the Inuit used mind maps. It probably wasn't until they were asked to draw the maps for the explorers so that they could find their way through, I'll probably… I'll let Peter if he's got any other comment besides that.

Gisèle Jacob: I also see Isabelle nodding, so maybe Isabelle, also, you'd like to say a few words? Perhaps Peter afterwards?

Isabelle Charron: Actually, I completely agree with my colleague here. As I said in my presentation, when explorers met with Inuit people, and also with other aboriginal people in North America, one of the first things they asked for is drawing maps, and it seems like Inuit people really had a talent for that because they would… their land was so important for their survival, they knew it so well, that they might have drawn some maps in the snow or in the ice, but all those maps were, like, ephemeral. So, but yeah, we do have… and actually the explorers on their printed maps, they would recognize the authors of those maps. There are some… some of them are known, actually, and some maps like Perry's maps, published in Perry's book in 1824 and, I'm sorry, but they are called Eskimo Charts, and there are three Eskimo Charts, one, two and three. So, and sometimes they would name the actual, the individual, who drew the map so, yes, I, actually I think these people really had a great sense of geography and of the land that they were occupying.

Gisèle Jacob: Did you want to add something Peter?

Peter Irniq: Maybe a short one. Inuit, well this is why we call it Nunavut, our land. We know it very well, and because Inuit have been travelling by dog team and on foot, by kayak or [42:01 Inuktitut word], the boat that we built many, many thousands of years ago, when the map makers came, they asked the Inuit to take them around so that southern Canadian, for example, map maker who came could make maps of the area because Inuit knowledge is extremely important. Let me just say something here because it's important. About five years ago I was in Naujaat. I was in a place called [42:34 inaudible] where I grew up. It means place that has…a lake that has some seals. I came upon young people, 30, 40 years old, and I said you know that big hill up there has a name. And he said, well, we don't go by names anymore. We have the GPS, (laughter) and I said but GPS will not allow you to know the traditional name of that big hill. It will always be important for Inuit, particularly the young people of today to know about the landscape names in Nunavut, no matter what, because they mean, they always mean survival of the Inuit for the animals that we harvest. Thank you.


Audience member: [43:34 inaudible]. It was a very good paper. You said an important thing. You said we never gave our own names to the land. The European people did it, like Frobisher, because it's not his land. That's why he gave his name. But I have a question that I always felt important. It's not only the place names but your own names. When I see Elisepi or Madeline, Germain Ariatoiak, Tomasi, Thomas, Elizabeth, Madeleine, they are all French names Inuktituticized that come back in English, and it's really interesting to see that your own names have become combined between old French schools, Inuit names and, after that, anglicized.

Kowesa Etitiq: That's a good point, but my name is Kowesa Etitiq. I don't think it's French. (Laughter) I think Peter has…

Audience member: That's why, Kowesa, I said you're an exception.

Peter Irniq: Thank you. It's true that with our own names we have a lot of English names and French names. There's a reason for that. In the first stages when the missionaries came and the Anglican missionaries, the Roman Catholic missionaries, our parents, who spoke no English whatsoever, had no choice of naming us in terms of English names or French names, so if the people, if they were Roman Catholic missionaries, they came to a place like [45:35 inaudible] you see people with a lot of names like Marie Lucie, for example, Théophile, for example Pierre. In the beginning when I was baptized I was called Pierre, and that was by the Roman Catholic Church priest who baptized me when my father took him to Lion Inlet, 50 miles east of Naujaat when I was born on February 1, 19… when was I born? (Laughter) … 1947.

Audience member. It's 2009 now.

Peter Irniq: Oh, gees, you're right. You're right. On the other hand, so when I went to residential school, the school teacher, English teacher, changed it to Peter, so that's the name that I had since them. But if you're also, if you were baptized by Anglican missionary, you were given a name like Mary, but they Inukatized it to [Mielli] or if they baptize you as Paul, they try to make it an Inuit name, [Palussi], [Davidi], so you hear a lot of these names today with our own names. But my son's name is Unaluk, which means Indian. Unaluk Irniq. That's the name that he has. And my daughter's name is [47:19 Sayuchuk]. Bumblebee.