It means Qik­iq­taaluk, the Inuk­ti­tut name for Baf­fin Is­land. Ex­plore how peo­ple live in the nine com­mu­ni­ties of Canada’s largest is­land.

Canadian Geographic - - FEATURES - Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Nick Walker

It means ‘Baf­fin Is­land’ in Inuk­ti­tut. Ex­plore how peo­ple now live in the nine com­mu­ni­ties of the largest is­land in Canada’s Arc­tic Ar­chi­pel­ago.

BAF­FIN STANDS alone, re­ally. Set­tled for a hand­ful of decades but peo­pled for mil­len­nia, it out­sizes Canada’s sec­ond big­gest is­land, Vic­to­ria Is­land, by an area about the size of Italy. Only four other is­lands in the world are larger — Mada­gas­car, Bor­neo, New Guinea and Green­land. And Baf­fin is hardly half a mil­lion square kilo­me­tres of bar­ren wilder­ness. More than 17,000 peo­ple (48 per cent of Nu­navut’s pop­u­la­tion) live here and on small sur­round­ing is­lands in nine coastal com­mu­ni­ties in­clud­ing Iqaluit, the ter­ri­tory’s cap­i­tal and only city. Set­tled only since the mid-20th cen­tury when fed­eral poli­cies moved Inuit off the land, Nu­navut is now Canada’s fastest grow­ing re­gion, and Iqaluit had the largest in­crease of the cap­i­tals since the 2011 cen­sus. With an av­er­age age of less than 25 and al­most dou­ble the na­tional birth rate, the ter­ri­tory also has the youngest pop­u­la­tion. Res­i­dents, mean­while, face the coun­try’s high­est cost of liv­ing, and hous­ing short­ages and ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture are no se­cret: it’s dif­fi­cult and of­ten pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive to ship ma­te­ri­als and con­struct and main­tain build­ings in the North. Ev­ery­thing from swiftly de­pleted fed­eral fund­ing to cli­mate con­trib­utes to over­crowd­ing and wait­ing lists for homes hun­dreds of peo­ple long in some com­mu­ni­ties. By ne­ces­sity, around two-thirds of all hous­ing in Baf­fin’s ham­lets is sub­si­dized. But things may be look­ing up. While it could take a decade or more, a bur­geon­ing min­ing in­dus­try and the prom­ise of a deep-sea port in Iqaluit, fi­bre-op­tic com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­nec­tions and even hy­dro­elec­tric­ity and wind power (rather than diesel gen­er­a­tion) in­stalled in some com­mu­ni­ties could by ex­ten­sion help ease res­i­den­tial woes. “The hous­ing cri­sis is real,” says Brent Crooks, vice-pres­i­dent of NCC Prop­er­ties Ltd., an Inuit-owned prop­erty man­age­ment com­pany that de­vel­ops and leases Nu­navut in­fra­struc­ture. “But things have come a long way in the last 10 years. You could have come to the North be­fore that and thought, ‘This is a for­got­ten peo­ple.’ ” Be­sides gov­ern­ment build­ings such as the Nu­navut Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly, NCC has built hun­dreds of res­i­den­tial units in Nu­navut, in­clud­ing in five of the Baf­fin com­mu­ni­ties. Crooks has lived in Iqaluit since 1978 and, as one ex­am­ple of new mo­men­tum, points to the on­go­ing ef­forts of the Qik­iq­taaluk Cor­po­ra­tion (an Inuit eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion) to have Nova Sco­tia-de­signed NACSI homes cer­ti­fied for use in Nu­navut. Not only could these sturdy resin-in­fused and in­su­lated, jute-fi­bre-walled homes be eas­ily man­u­fac­tured in the ham­lets, they could dras­ti­cally re­duce ma­te­rial and con­struc­tion costs. Decades of grow­ing pains are still ahead, per­haps. But through it all, Inuit are fos­ter­ing and tak­ing part in tra­di­tional cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties in the set­tle­ments and across this huge land mass. Read on for more about Baf­fin’s com­mu­ni­ties and how the is­land’s an­ces­tral peo­ples came to live in them.

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