This Week in History


Roadmaps of the North

This story was initially published in 2006

On April 1, 1999, the new territory of Nunavut was formally recognized as being a part of Confederation and its flag was revealed. Proposals for Aboriginal self-government in the Arctic had begun in the 1960s. Plebiscites held in the Northwest Territories in 1992 confirmed that region’s support for a division of its land. Finally, the crucial signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement took place on July 9, 1993. Less than six years later, the dream of Inuit self-government became a reality, and all of Canada marvelled at the revelation of the flag of Nunavut.

Flag of Nunavut
The flag of Nunavut is very representative of the landscape and rich cultural heritage of the Canadian north. The star at the top right is the North Star (“Niqirtsuituq” in the Inuit language, Inuktitut), which has aided navigation of the north for centuries. In addition, the star signifies the importance of elders in Inuit society. The colour red is representative of Canada’s importance to Nunavut and vice versa. The blue and gold represent the bounty and beauty of the earth, sea and sky. The symbol in middle of the flag is quite possibly the most enduring and recognizable symbol of the Canadian north: an inuksuk.

Inuksuk Complex
© Parks Canada
The word inuksuk comes from the Inuktitut word “Inuk”, which means “person.” Inuksuk translates literally as “to act in the capacity of a person,” and these ancient landmarks serve many purposes. Inuksuit (the plural form of “inuksuk”) are stone statues that can mark important trails or indicate caches of meat. They also act as monuments for travellers about to embark on dangerous journeys. For good luck, these travellers often place an offering at the bottom of an inuksuk. During the fall hunting season, groups of inuksuit can act as “caribou fences” persuading the animals to move towards waiting hunters.

Enukso Point, on the southwestern part of Baffin Island, is home to a great number of inuksuit. It features two large groupings of the statues, located about 150 metres from one another. Some are as tall as 1.8 metres, and there are about one hundred of them in this small area alone. They comprise what is perhaps the most fantastic display of Inuit cultural expression on the planet. The Inuksuit at Enukso Point were designated a National Historic Site in 1969.

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