Kitikmeot Region & Inuinnait Culture

The Kitikmeot region

The Kitikmeot is one of three administrative regions in the territory of Nunavut, Canada. It includes the southern and eastern parts of Victoria Island and adjacent parts of the mainland as far as the Boothia Peninsula, together with King William Island and the southern portion of Prince of Wales Island. The region is home to Cambridge Bay,  Kugluktuk (formerly known as Coppermine),  Gjoa Haven,  Taloyoak (formerly known as Spence Bay ),  Kugaaruk (formerly known as Pelly Bay), Ulukhaktok (formerly known as Holman ),  Umingmaktok (formerly known as Bay Chimo), and Bathurst Inlet.

Inuinnait Culture

While active in programs and research with communities across the Kitikmeot region, the Kitikmeot Heritage Society highlights work with Inuinnait populations. ‘Inuinnait’ is a term used in the Inuinnaqtun language to signify ‘the people.’  While the word was traditionally used in reference of all Inuit people, it has more recently been applied to Inuit populations occupying the western half of the Kitikmeot region. This group is more familiarly known as the ‘Copper Inuit;’ a name given to them by the explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson during the early 1900s because they often used the area’s natural copper sources as metal for their tools.

The term ‘Inuinnait’ does not reference a single body of people or customs.  Inuinnait were traditionally divided into regional groups and small populations of families that self-identified according to landmarks and place names in their hunting and traveling territories. Using the word suffix ‘-miut,’ meaning “people of,” groups would describe themselves as being related to a particular area of land. For example, a group of people who lived and hunted near the Coppermine River were known as the Qurluqtuurmiut, or the people of the rapids. According to information collected by early explorers in the area, each subgroup had a population ranging from a few dozen to around 150 people. Because Inuinnait moved around according to availability of fish and game animals, they might change the name of their group when they moved to a new area.

While many Inuinnait share similar cultural practices, each subgroup retains its own identity through small differences in dialect and tradition. To this day, individuals coming from different areas of the western Kitikmeot maintain unique ways sewing, speaking and constructing tools.  Recognizing this, the Kitikmeot Heritage Society seeks to involve elders from different regions in its projects to better document the diversity of Inuinnait traditions and language.