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Kitikmeot School Operations (KitSO)



Kugaaruk, formerly known as Pelly Bay (named after John Pelly, a governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company), was a location frequented by the nomadic Netsilingmiut, descendants of the Thule people. They called it Arviligjuak, “place of many bowhead whales,” until the number of whales diminished because of years of whaling. Pelly Bay’s geographic location is subject to ice jams, which discouraged the establishment of whaling stations or trading posts, and so most Inuit continued to follow a traditional lifestyle well into the 1900s. Although Sir John Ross camped nearby in 1829, contact with Europeans was limited. In 1935, the first missionary arrived in the area and a Catholic Mission was established in 1937. As part of the development of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) system, a DEW Line site was constructed in 1955. A community began to develop around the base, and in 1968 the Canadian government began to build housing in the community, leading to the introduction of salaried work. When Nunavut was created in 1999, the community changed its name to Kugaaruk, meaning “little stream,” after the nearby river.

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.



Only a handful of Elders who have lived more than half their lives in the old ways of the Netsilingmiut on the land are still alive. Daily life in the community is a mix of modern western and traditional Inuit culture. For example, it is not uncommon to find a family watching cable or satellite TV, while eating traditional food such as raw char prepared and shared on a designated space on the floor. Kugaardjuk School has posted a website documenting local history and activities. Although the site is a bit dated (2000), there are photographs and descriptions of community and school life. Elders in Kugaaruk have also run kayak-building programs to keep this particular ancient skill alive. The old stone church in Kugaaruk was declared a historic building and restored in 1995, but the community now worships in a new Catholic church. There is no Anglican church.

Despite the fact that most of the population of Kugaaruk is Inuit, unilingual Inuktitut speakers make up only 2% of the community. The rest of the community speaks English, and almost 80% use English as the first language at home. However, 67% do claim Inuktitut as their mother tongue, 20% say it is the first language at home, and 59% say they use Inuktitut in the home as a second language. The preservation of the Inuit language is a concern, and instruction in school is conducted primarily in Inuktitut until Grade 2. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both languages. In addition, Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and to have local residents correct your usage occasionally. 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 population of Kugaaruk is generally very young. The 2011 census counted approximately 110 pre-school and 270 school-age children, making 49% of the population under the age of 18, which is the median age of the community. Only 3% of the population is over 65.


Kugaaruk is a traditional community, where the local wage economy focuses largely on providing goods and services to local residents. Many people also engage in subsistence hunting and fishing. In addition, there are some well-known artists and craftspeople. Emily Illuitok, who died in 2012, is known for her ivory carvings, and her sons, Liederik and Michael, are both artists. Agnes Iqqugaqtuq has created distinctive wall-hangings. Although Kugaaruk does not have the decentralized government offices that form a significant part of the economy of many Nunavut communities, local outfitters do provide services to adventurous tourists who are interested in the area’s landscape and wildlife.

As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Kugaaruk, and cash supplies can often become very limited. An ATM is available at the Co-op, with a limited cash supply. Interac and credit card services are available. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.


The area around Kugaaruk is rich with wildlife. Local marine mammals include bowhead whales, narwals, beluga, and seals. Arctic char can be found in the rivers. The rocky coastal hills and tundra valleys provide habitat for hares, foxes, ptarmigans, falcons and herds of caribou. Polar bears can be seen both on land and in the ocean.

Further Reading: 
  • Balikci, Asen. The Netsilik Eskimo. New York: American Museum of Natural History Press, 1970.
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, ed. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques: The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
  • 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.