Nunavut Cambridge Bay

© Mark Edward Harris

Nunavut Day in the Words of John Houston

Inuit Art Specialist and Arctic filmmaker John Houston discusses the evolution of Nunavut and Adventure Canada's connection with Inuit

“There’s a gulf between the Nunavut that southern Canadians hear described in the media and the one that actually exists—there’s no substitute for going there and having the people share their land and communities with you.” —John Houston

With our team of expedition staff, Adventure Canada travels the world’s wildest places.

Our expeditions take us to the west coast of Greenland and the east coast of Canada, down the mighty St. Lawrence River, and even into the Tanzanian Serengeti, but there is one region that has always been at the heart of all that we do: Nunavut.

Today is Nunavut Day, which marks the anniversary of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which gave Inuit of the central and eastern Northwest Territories a separate territory called Nunavut. It is the largest Aboriginal land claim in Canadian history. The NLCA provided the Inuit of Nunavut with a number of new rights, including representation on wildlife, resource, and environmental management boards. When the territory was officially created in 1999, it represented the culmination of work that began in 1973 by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, now Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami or ITK).

Celebrating creation of Nunavut Staff and Passangers

A group of intrepid guests and staff celebrating the creation of Nunavut in 1999

On April 1, 1999, Nunavut as an independent territory with an independent government became a reality. This was a huge boon for the nearly 60,000 Inuit people who call the Canadian Arctic home, scattered across fifty-three communities in the vast North. Nunavut itself comprises a staggering 350,000 square kilometres—accounting for over twenty percent of Canada’s landmass—making it one of the most sparsely populated territories on Earth.

That being said, Nunavut Inuit retain a rich and vibrant culture, reaching back to their origins as the Thule culture. A deep-seated focus on storytelling and song, plus a reverence for generational knowledge kept by Elders, are the legacy of the nomadic hunter-gatherers who were their ancestors. The ancient ways also continue to inspire Nunavut arts and culture.

Ulu photo nunavut

© Lee Narraway

The Ulu is an ancient multi-purpose women's knife of excellent Inuit design. Nowadays, it is both an essential tool and a symbol of pride.

Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit, is a vibrant hub of culture including the widely attended Alianait Arts Festival, hometown musical heroes The Jerry Cans, and more. A new generation of young Inuit are making waves as they find their place within a modernizing world, preserving their cultural heritage while carrying those skills forward in a modern Nunavut.

John houston caribou

© Dennis Minty

John holding "First Caribou" a carving that was gifted to his father by Inuk artist Conlucy Nayoumealook (1891 - 1958) of Inukjuak, Nunavik.

Heart of the Arctic, an expedition lined up for 2022 is by far our most community-and art-focused voyage, paying a visit to Kinngait (Cape Dorset)—the epicenter of the Inuit printmaking movement. The late James and Alma Houston are widely credited with introducing Inuit art to the world at large. Their son, Inuit art expert John Houston, been travelling with Adventure Canada since 1991, making him one of our longest-standing expedition staffers.

Martha Grise Fiord

© Scott Forsyth

Martha is an interpreter, translator, culturalist, and advocate who was removed from Inukjuaak, Nunavik and relocated to Grise Fiord, Nunavut in the 1950s.

“My great thrill,” says John, “is the ongoing collaboration between Adventure Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut, which is where I come from. Having the community greet us at the shore as we step out of Zodiacs that contain Inuit as drivers, Inuit as expedition staff, Inuit as Expedition Leaders— seeing the looks on the faces of the young people gathered as they witness that collaboration, and perhaps see a path for themselves. That’s immensely gratifying for me.”

Heidi Langille Inuit

© Dennis Minty

The community of Kinngait and Adventure Canada Inuit culturalist Heidi Langille welcome visitors with a country food tasting