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 Nunavik’s Human History

The history of those that have occupied Nunavik over the centuries is a reflection of the populations which have inhabited the entire Arctic from Siberia in the west to Greenland in the east. Roughly 4500 years ago, a slow migration began from Alaska. Groups, known today as paleo-eskimo, took 500 years to arrive in Nunavik, occupying the east coast of Hudson Bay as well as different areas of Ungava Bay. Over a period of almost 1500 years, the coasts of the region ensured their survival. Then for unknown reasons approximately 2500 years ago, this population disappeared from Nunavik.

 Much later, about 2000 years ago, other groups came to Nunavik, following the arrival of a significant population in neighbouring eastern Arctic territories. Archaeologists have designated these people as Dorset. They occupied different areas of Nunavik for over 1000 years and harvested marine wildlife for the most part. It was towards the middle of this period that Dorset art became prominent. Then between 1000 and 500 years ago, this culture seems to have disappeared from the region. The actual time is currently disputed by archaeologists.

Around 1000 AD, the Thule (ancestors of the Inuit), appeared in the western part of Northern Canada. Rapidly, groups belonging to this new culture commenced migrating eastward. The new arrivals possessed technology much better adapted to the cold conditions of the Arctic at that period. In Nunavik, the earliest Thule sites date to around the 13th century and are found on the coasts of the Hudson Strait and western Ungava Bay.

 From the second half of the 16th century, the records of European explorers mention encounters with groups living on Baffin Island and other nearby islands. These encounters were not only sporadic but generally brief. Nunavik Thule occupying the shores of the Hudson Strait and eastern Hudson Bay possibly became aware of this new presence in the North around the 17th century, though contact would have been very limited. Elsewhere in Nunavik, contact remained non-existent. The first fur-trading posts, which were established during the 18th century and the many more which followed in the 19th century, changed this. Some areas, however, continued to have no direct contact with people of European descent until the 20th century. The fur-trading period marked the beginning of drastic and irreversible changes in the lives of the Inuit of Nunavik.