Inuinnait Heritage Project – Nunavut


The Inuinnait Heritage Project is a collaboration between the Kitikmeot Heritage Society (KHS) of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and the University of Toronto. Its ultimate goal is to tell the 5,000-year story of the occupation of the Inuinnait region of western Nunavut, from its initial peopling around 3000 BC to the mid-twentieth century, as remembered by Inuinnait Elders (Inuinnait is the name for Inuit living in the Victoria Island / Coronation Gulf region, known in the ethnographic literature as “Copper Inuit”).


The research project is built around a series of three main objectives defined by the KHS. First, the fieldwork will link archaeology with the recording of oral histories in the Bathurst Inlet region (southwest of Cambridge Bay). Bathurst Inlet was a key area of Inuit settlement before the establishment of modern towns, and many Cambridge Bay Elders want to record their knowledge of the region, in conjunction with visits to settlements where they lived decades ago. Second, the fieldwork will create contexts for the transfer of knowledge between Elders and youth, as part of broader efforts to increase youth engagement with Inuit heritage. Third, the results will expand the scope of archaeology in the Inuinnait region, so that it covers all periods from earliest settlement to the 20th century.


Through its planned five year span, this project will address these objectives while also generating important new archaeological data. While many archaeological periods in the Inuinnait region are well-studied, we have identified two periods which are poorly understood, and which will therefore form the focus for the present project. The first period is the most recent part of the region’s history: the full span of Inuit occupation over the past 800 years, from early Thule settlement to the early 20th century. During this period, Inuit society underwent dynamic change, based on many factors including the distribution of major game species such as caribou and seals, the increasing presence of European trade goods, and climate change including the coldest years of the Little Ice Age. We will spend at least three field seasons studying this period, in combination with recording of oral history. The second period we will investigate is the most ancient part of the region’s culture history: the first migration into the region by Pre-Dorset peoples around 3000 BC. The Inuinnait region contains among the earliest settlements of these pioneering hunters, however their way of life is poorly understood.


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Photo: Max Friesen

The Archaeology Centre, 19 Russell St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 2S2.    email:

Photo: Max Friesen