A hand-drawn Inuit map and celebrating 85 years of Canadian Geographic
A LIFETIME ON THE LAND boiled down to lines drawn with colour-coded pens. That’s at least part of what this Arctic “regional land use” map shows. Created by Inuit hunter Henry Hokshun of the Gjoa Haven region in the 1970s, it’s an account of seven decades spent travelling what looks more like a bountiful homeland than the barren frontier of popular imagination. Such “biography maps” exist because in 1972, the then-new Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (an Inuit advocacy organization) and University of Alberta anthropologist Milton Freeman proposed the Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Project to the Canadian government. It was to document past and present Inuit land and marine use in the Northwest Territories, an area that, pre-nunavut, made up roughly a third of Canada. Within a year, nearly 150 administrators and social scientists were visiting 34 Arctic communities, bringing base maps to and interviewing 1,600 Inuit hunters, trappers, fishers and berry pickers. Like other interviewees, Hokshun used landmarks as references to chart the ranges shown here, winter campsites and detailed hunting areas for 15 Arctic species (from berries to muskox) for generations between 1903 and 1974. This map shows, for example, that geese and other birds were harvested near Gjoa Haven during period 4 (1963-74), while ringed seals were found in areas north of town from periods 1 to 3 (1903-62) and polar bears, farther north still, in period 2 (1927-54). Hokshun’s routes criss-cross and contain more than 90,000 square kilometres of central Arctic — a massive expanse extending east into Queen Maud Gulf, west to Pelly Bay and south across the Adelaide Peninsula onto the mainland. The project was a clear and comprehensive statement by Inuit about where their traditional lands lie and how they’ve used them since “time immemorial,” as the project proposal put it. It became the model for other indigenous mapping endeavours, and the maps were eventually key to Inuit land claim negotiations, including the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the largest aboriginal land claim settlement in Canadian history.
*with files from Isabelle Charron, early cartographic archivist, Library and Archives Canada