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Kitikmeot School Operations (KitSO)



Netsilingmiut, or “people of the netsilik (seal),” have inhabited the land around the community of Taloyoak (formerly Spence Bay) for as long as anyone remembers, with many being descended from the Thule people who first travelled the area. As in several Nunavut communities, the search for the Northwest Passage was the reason for explorer John Ross’s first recorded contact with local people in 1829. Ross, his ship and crew were trapped by ice for four years. Later, the search for Franklin brought several other expeditions through the area between 1848 and 1860. Explorer Roald Amundsen came to the area on the first recorded successful attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage in 1905-1906. There is also a record of various whaling parties visiting the area during the height of Arctic whaling.

The community of Spence Bay was established in 1948, when the Hudson’s Bay Company and RCMP arrived and established posts. Catholic and Anglican missions followed in the 1950s. Incorporated as a Hamlet in 1976, Spence Bay changed its name to Taloyoak on July 1, 1992. The Inuktitut word talurqjuak means “large stone blind” and was chosen for the Hamlet because of a stone blind that the Inuit of the area traditionally used to corral and harvest caribou.

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.


The community values highly traditional Inuit knowledge although only a handful of Elders who have lived 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 seal prepared and shared on a designated space on the floor. Some of Taloyoak’s oral history heritage has been captured by the Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT) with financial support from Canadian Heritage. These stories are presented online at Taloyoak: Stories of Thunder and Stone. This site also gives a historical overview of the community and the Inuit Heritage Trust’s views of its role in preserving Nunavut’s archaeological and oral history. There is a Roman Catholic church in Taloyoak, St. Michel, which was established in 1954 and rebuilt in 2001. Taloyoak also has an Anglican church, the Church of the Good Shepherd.

According to the 2011 Census, although 98% of the population of Taloyoak is of Inuit ancestry and 63% claim Inuit language as their mother tongue, English is the predominant language of use, and 83% use it as the first language at home. About 16% say they use Inuktitut at home as a first language and 55% may use Inuktitut as a second language at home, but less than 2% are unilingual Inuktitut speakers. Children in pre-school and early primary school are taught in Inuktitut to help reduce language loss. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both languages. 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.

Taloyoak’s population is very young. The 2011 Census counted around 130 pre-school and 260 school-age children, making 43% of the population under 18. The median age in town is 20.9 years, and Elders over 65 make up only about 4% of the population. An important aspect of the IHT project was getting students to interview Elders to collect oral histories and broaden their own knowledge of local traditions and stories.


Taloyoak is considered one of the more traditional communities in Nunavut, with activities such as hunting and trapping remaining a prominent part of everyday life. Artists, carvers and artisans are important to the local economy as well, marketing their artwork both in retail outlets and door-to-door. The community is especially well known for its highly-collectible “Spence Bay packing dolls,” which are Arctic animals dressed in duffel amautiit, or packing parkas, carrying their young. Taloyoak carvings often depict subjects of Inuit legend, made from stone, whalebone, caribou antler and walrus ivory. Local tourism focuses on hiking, camping, hunting and fishing activities. These activities are supplemented by waged employment that focuses on providing goods and services to local residents.

As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Taloyoak and cash supplies can often become very limited. An ATM is available at the Northern Store, with a limited cash supply. Interac and credit card services are available at most retail stores. 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 Taloyoak is rich in Arctic wildlife. In the proper season, one can see caribou, lemmings, ground squirrels (siksik), hares, foxes, ravens, seagulls, terns, snow buntings, ptarmigans, gyrfalcons and snowy owls. Large flocks of migrating ducks and geese can also be seen in the spring and fall. Muskoxen are found to the north and south of Taloyoak. There are seals, cod and whitefish in the sea, and nearby lakes contain trout and char. Schools of whales, such as beluga and narwhal, may also come into the area. Wolves, wolverines and polar bears are sometimes seen in this region. Insect life is also abundant. Local people say good insect repellent and insect-proof clothing are essential for the summer months.

Further Reading: 
  • Balikci, Asen. The Netsilik Eskimo. New York: American Museum of Natural History Press, 1970.
  • 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-Queens 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.