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Grise Fiord

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Grise Fiord

Region: 
Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)

Community

About
History: 

Grise Fiord has the distinction of being Nunavut’s smallest community and the most northerly civilian settlement in Canada. Its Inuktitut name, Ausuittuq, means “the place that never thaws out.” Stories from Greenland indicate that there were travelling groups of Inuit who visited the area in the 19th century, but there is no evidence of the establishment of any permanent camps. The Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup gave Grise Fiord its current official name, thinking that the many walruses in the area sounded like “grise” – pigs, in Norwegian.

Unlike many communities throughout Nunavut that grew out of regular occupation associated with the presence of wildlife, the community of Grise Fiord is a result of the forcible relocation of Inuit from Northern Quebec and Pond Inlet to the RCMP post at nearby Craig Harbour in 1953. The RCMP post has been in existence since 1922. Families were moved from Craig Harbour to the current location in 1956, and in 1962 the Canadian government built the first school and housing in the community. The federal government offered Inuit a formal apology for the treatment they received in 2008, and in 2010 a monument was erected in memory of the event and the families who did not survive.

The Government of Nunavut (GN) Employee Orientation website offers an excellent collection of material on the general history of Nunavut, together with an overview of Inuit culture and history and an explanation of how Inuit cultural principles are being incorporated into government operations and services. We recommend exploring this site once it is available again after their restructuring, for now you can try the general GN site for information.

Culture: 

Although residents of Grise Fiord have adapted to modern life in terms of school, office work, and the use of information technology, their lives are still deeply traditional. People engage in hunting, fishing, sewing, carving, drum dancing and other activities that preserve their Inuit heritage. Snowmobiles are a practical part of everyday life, but dog teams are still kept for participating in the traditional polar bear hunt.

There is only one church in Grise Fiord. St. Peter’s Anglican Church shares its clergy with the Anglican churches in Pond Inlet and Resolute Bay. Community members can provide information about the service schedule.

Grise Fiord is unique in Nunavut for both its tiny size and, even by Nunavut standards, extreme isolation. Most people in the Hamlet are descended from one of the two Inuit family groupings that were relocated there, those from Northern Québec and those from northern Baffin Island. Inuktitut is the prevalent language, with 85% of the residents identifying Inuktitut as their mother tongue in the 2011 Census. Around the same number of residents use Inuktitut at home as either a first or second language. There are a few French speakers in Grise as well, and all but a handful of the population speak English. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both English and Inuktitut, but you will hear Inuktitut used in daily life and you should not expect general Inuktitut conversations to be translated automatically just because an English speaker is present. Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and perhaps have local residents correct your usage. The Inuit language (Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun), English and French are all official languages of Nunavut, so you have the right to request government services in the official language of your choice.

The 2011 Census counted 10 pre-school and 45 school-age children, making 42% of the population under 18. The median age of the community is 24.7, and in 2011, no one over the age of 65 was counted for the Census.

Economy: 

The local economy of Grise Fiord is focused largely on providing goods and services to local residents. Many people participate in traditional subsistence hunting, chiefly for marine mammals and occasionally muskox, to help offset the extremely high price of food in the community. Grise Fiord has relatively few economic opportunities compared to many Nunavut communities, but efforts are being made to increase the Hamlet’s tourism potential, given the abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery. Many local residents supply goods and guiding services for the commercial polar bear sport hunt, a strictly regulated activity, which is of great economic importance to the community. Occasionally, visitors to Quttinirpaaq National Park visit the community as well. Artists and craftspeople, including carvers and seamstresses, sell their work directly and through the Co-op.

As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Grise Fiord, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Co-op offers “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store and cash cheques for a service fee, etc. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly because postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.

Wildlife: 

Located on the southern shores of Ellesmere Island, the area around Grise Fiord hosts a diversity of wildlife, including seals, narwhal, walrus, beluga and polar bears. Commercial polar bear sport hunting is part of the economy of the community, and is tightly controlled through wildlife regulations. Musk oxen can be found nearby, as can small game, including foxes, lemmings and wolves. The summer brings a wide variety of birds and Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area (NWA) is one of five National Wildlife Areas in Nunavut. A 100 kilometre trip from Grise Fiord, Nirjutiqavvik NWA was listed in 1995, and is renowned for its magnificent seabird cliffs, particularly on Coburg Island, During the summer, you can see 30,000 pairs of black-legged kittiwakes and 160,000 pairs of thick-billed murres on the tiny ledges on the high cliffs of the eastern and southern coasts of the island. The Hamlet’s website describes the local wildlife seasons in detail

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Canada Royal Commission on Aboriginal People. The High Arctic relocation. Ottawa: The Commission, 1994.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques. The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
  • Grant, Shelagh D. Sovereignty or security? Government policy in the Canadian North 1936-1950. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1988.
  • Issenman, Betty Kobayashi. Sinews of Survival: the living legacy of Inuit clothing. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.
  • MacDonald, John. The Arctic sky: Inuit astronomy, star lore and legend. Iqaluit & Toronto: Nunavut Research Institute and Royal Ontario Museum, 1998.
  • McGhee, Robert. The last imaginary place: a human history of the Arctic world. Toronto: Key Porter Books, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2004.
  • Morrison, David and Georges-Hébert Germain. Inuit: glimpses of an Arctic past. Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995.
  • Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The Inuit way: a guide to Inuit culture, rev. ed. Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006. http://www.uqar.ca/files/boreas/inuitway_e.pdf
  • Rholem, Karim. Uvattinnit: the people of the far north. Montréal: Stanké International, 2001.
  • Tester, Frank James and Kulchyski, Peter. Tammarniit (mistakes): Inuit relocation in the Eastern Arctic 1939-63. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1994.