Baffinland Inuit - Orientation

Identification. The Baffinland Inuit constitute the Easternmost group of what is commonly referred to as the Central Eskimo, a designation that also includes the Copper, Iglulik, Netsilik, and Caribou Inuit. The Baffinland Inuit are a hunting people who have occupied their land for over four thousand years. They refer to their territory as Nunaseak, which means "beautiful land." Today, the Baffinland Inuit are under the jurisdiction of the Northwest Territories government. There is, however, an active movement toward a reinterpretation of their political status within Canada, which is based on the settlement of land claims, the creation of a system of self-government, and the recognition of aboriginal rights within the constitution of Canada. The rather massive changes that have occurred over the last twenty-five years have resulted in many disruptions to traditional social patterns that must be dealt with by all segments of the Population as the Baffinland Inuit struggle to reconcile tradition with change and to create a new form of adaptation.

Location. The Baffinland Inuit occupy the southern two-thirds of Baffin Island. Their territory extends from approximately 62° to 72° N. The northeastern sector of their Territory is mountainous with small glaciers, the southern sector has rolling terrain, and to the west the surface becomes flat. The climate is marked by intense cold in the winter with daytime temperatures averaging about -30° F. Summer temperatures average 50° F and except for the areas of glaciers most of the snow melts each season. The sea freezes in October and begins break-up in July. In some years, however, pack ice never clears from the area.

Demography. In 1988 the population of the Baffinland Inuit was approximately 7,200. The largest community, Iqualuit (Frobisher Bay), is the transportation, supply, and government center for the territory and has a population of 3,625. The Davis Strait communities of Kangitugaapiq (Clyde) and Qikitarjuaq (Broughton Island) have populations of approximately 550 and 450, respectively; Pangnirtung, about 1,100; Kingmiruit (Lake Harbor), about 350 and, farther west, Kingait (Cape Dorset), about 1,100. The population is growing at a rate of 2.8 percent per year, which is a significant decrease from earlier estimates of over 4 percent. In all communities there is a predominance of young people, with almost 45 percent of the total population under eighteen years of age. The existence of settlements of even 400 people, coupled with this shift in age composition, is a new development with major social and economic consequences.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Baffinland Inuit speak Inuktituk, which is the language spoken from northern Alaska to Greenland. Although there are dialects and changes from Region to region, the Baffinland Inuit can communicate with all the Central Eskimo groups as well as with the Inuit of Quebec and Labrador. Inuktituk is now written by using syllabic symbols that were developed by missionaries. English is the Second language of most young Baffinland Inuit, but there is a deep concern about maintaining the language and ensuring its use in the workplace as well as in the home.

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