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Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)



The Belcher Islands, home to the community of Sanikiluaq, have been occupied over time by both the Dorset and Thule peoples. Given the proximity of the islands to the northern Québec coast, there was also migration and travel between the two locations. The first recorded European contact was in 1610 when Henry Hudson, for whom Hudson Bay was named, logged the islands on his ill-fated journey of exploration. Although Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) employee Thomas Wiegand visited the islands in the 1840s, there is no evidence of Europeans overwintering until Robert Flaherty arrived in 1914. The HBC first opened a trading post in 1928, which was relocated to “Eskimo Harbour” in 1961, the same year the federal government built a school in the southern part of the islands. The Hamlet of Sanikiluaq was established in 1974, coinciding with the consolidation of federal services, and the movement of residents to one location from two “camps” located at the north and south ends of the islands. According to some sources, the Hamlet is named after a local legendary Inuk (person) named Sandy Kiluaq, an adopted boy who grew up to become the best hunter and best provider in the region and a hero to his community.

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.


Sanikiluaq Inuit have a distinct culture, based on the unique resources available to them in their island location. They are famed for creating clothing from bird feathers and skin, documented in Jill Oakes’s book Coats of Eider (on the additional reading list), and fish skin dolls. They are also noted basket weavers. Their carvings are made from local argillite, rather than the soapstone more common in many other communities. Their cultural distinctions have been maintained in part because connections to Sanikiluaq from other Nunavut communities are indirect.

Sanikiluaq’s Anglican church, St. Phillips, forms part of the Great Whale River parish and shares its clergy with Great Whale River in northern Québec, in the Hudson Deanery. Most services are conducted by lay ministers, and church is attended regularly by up to 20% of the population.

Inuktitut is the language of daily life in Sanikiluaq. In the 2011 Census, 97% of the population claimed Inuktitut as their mother tongue, 92% speak it as the first language at home, and another 3% used it as a second language at home. As well, the number of bilingual homes is lower in Sanikiluaq than in most communities because 78% of the population does not speak more than one language at home. The number of people who do not speak either English or French is also high. Some 22% of the population is made up of unilingual Inuktitut speakers, which means that on occasion newcomers or visitors will need to find someone who speaks English to translate for them, particularly when communicating with Inuit Elders. Although there are a few people able to speak French in Sanikiluaq, English is the most commonly used second language (77% of the population). Most of the community uses English in the workplace or at school. Only 19% use English as a second language at home. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both Inuktitut and English, but 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 community is small and close-knit. It is also young. The 2011 Census counted 105 pre-school and 240 school-age children, making 43% of the community under 18. The median age is 21.1, and only around two dozen people are over 65, or 3% of the community.


Like many small communities in Nunavut, the local economy is primarily based on providing goods and services within the community. The traditional economy, which is based on hunting and fishing, is strong, and a local arts and crafts industry provides income for a number of residents. Basket weaving is an important local craft. A small tourism industry that focuses on wildlife, birding and adventure camping tours provides seasonal employment.

As in most Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Sanikiluaq, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern Store and Co-op offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash balance with the store, cash cheques for a service fee, etc. ATMs, Interac and credit card services are available at the stores, although ATMs may run out of cash. 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 Belcher Islands, located in Hudson Bay, support a wide variety of wildlife. The islands are well known for their large concentration of eider ducks, as well as host geese, loons, terns, gulls, ptarmigans and various raptors, such as peregrine falcons and rough-legged hawks. Marine wildlife includes seal, beluga whales, walrus and polar bears, and fish, such as cod and capelin. Arctic char and whitefish can also be found. Small game is present on the island, including hare, fox and lemmings, and reindeer were introduced to the islands in 1978.

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques. The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montreal & 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.
  • Najuqsivik Daycare. Bibliography of books on Sanikiluaq [online]
  • Oakes, Jill E. Coats of eider = Vêtements d’eider. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer, 1990.
  • Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The Inuit way: a guide to Inuit culture, rev. ed. Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006.