Not an Empty Wasteland: Place Names in Canada’s North
Compared to many places in the world where indigenous people struggle to have their voices heard, Inuit in the Canadian Arctic are in an enviable position. Nunavut occupies 1/5 th of Canada’s land mass, a vast majority of its population (85%) is Inuit, and 70% consider Inuktitut their first language. In harsh, treeless land considered by many to be mostly devoid of human presence, Inuit have a rich history of land use and occupancy that is reflected in thousands of place names that have yet to appear on Canadian maps. The Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT), a Nunavut land claim organization, is working to elevate Inuit toponymy to official status. Inuit involved in land claims outside of Nunavut, as well as other aboriginal groups in Canada’s north are submitting new names and name changes by the hundreds to provincial and territorial authorities often in concert with land claims negotiations. In addition to existing as an expression of cultural and territorial sovereignty, place names constitute a significant source of baseline environmental information that can inform climate change research as well as the sovereignty debate.