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Repulse Bay *      [pop: about 600 ]

by  Peter Ernerk

Would you like to see an Inuk elder teaching Inuit youth how to drum dance and sing traditional Inuit songs? You can when you reach the Arctic Circle and Repulse bay, an Inuit community still steeped in tradition - and one of the last places in the Arctic to join the 20th century.

Repulse Bay: History

    Repulse Bay is surrounded with endless Inuksuk landmarks. Inuksuit (the plural form) are rocks piled up on top of each other in the shape of a human

and they are referred to as stone cairns in English. Inuit built them countless years ago to show where they had traveled. These landmarks were built to be noticed.

    Many years ago the Inuit of Repulse Bay traveled back and forth by qamutiit  and boat to the land of the Amitturmuit (the people from Iglulik, Igloolik, and Sanirajak, Hall Beach). These travelers marked their way with Inusuit. For centuriea there has been continuous contact with the people of Iglulik, Sanirajak and Arvilgjuaq (Pelly Bay) with many marriages taking place between the different communities.

    Whalers began making regular voyages to Repulse Bay in 1860, but by 1914 commercial whaling had all but stopped.The Hudson’s Bay Co. opened a permanent trading post there in 1919. In the 1940’s and 50’s the Inuit of Naujaat trapped mostly white foxes. Fir prices were considered very good then and the cost of goods was affordable ($.50/gal. for kerosene). Many people traded their fox firs and sealskins with the Hudson’s Bay Co. and then purchased whaling boats, canoes and outboard motors..

    In the 1930’s missionaries came and altered the course of Inuit life. The very name “missionaries” implies that we Inuit were to be “saved”. Not surprisingly, perhaps, religious affiliation matched tribal membership. The Amitturmiut converted to the Anglican religion, settling mostly near the trading post on the west side of the community’s small hill. Roman Catholics, consisting of Nattilikmuit and Aivilingmiun people (from Pelly Bay and Repulse Bay respectively) settled on the east side of town. On this unnamed hill is a traditional grave site. By the 50’s it was not uncommon to hear Inuit arguing amongst themselves as to whose religious faith was better, especially among the children. This division, of course, was not an Inuit one.

    In the 40’s people started carving in a big way, working largely in soapstone, ivory and occasionally whalebone. This allowed Inuit to live well as it provided them with extra income. This also freed them from dependence on government support. The Inuit of Naujaat led the way in carving as did the Inuit of Kinngait

(Cape Dorset). Repulse Bay produced a good number of the best, including the late Marc Tungilik who became very famous for his miniature ivory carvings, and Irene Katak (the author’s mother).

    Many of our famous carvers have passed away: Lucy Agalakti, Celina Putulik, Paul Akuarjuk, Christine Aalu Sivaniqtuq, Madeline Isiqqut Kringayak, Athanasi Ulikattaq and Bernadette Iguttaq Tungilik. But others, such as John Kaunak and Paul Maliki still practise their craft in Naujaat while others, like Mariano Aupilardjuk and Bernadette Saumik, live in Rankin Inlet. Many of these carvers’ pieces can be viewed at art galleries and museums across Canada. A large collection of Naujaat carvings is on permanent display at the Eskimo Museum in Churchill. Manitoba.

    The Canadian government introduced the Eskimo Rental Housing Program in 1968 and almost all of the area’s Inuit settled in Naujaat. A new wage economy was helped along by the presence of government institutions that hired locally.

Repulse Bay: Land & Wildlife

   About 5km. north of the community is a cliff where seagulls nest every June. It is from this nesting place that Naujaat got its name: “fledgling” or baby seagull in Inuktitut.The English name of Repulse Bay came in 1742 from a disgruntled Captain Christopher Middleton, sailing on behalf of the British Admiralty. Disappointed that he had journeyed so far north and not found the elusive Northwest Passage he named the body of water he had sailed into “Repulse Bay”.

    During May and June Naujaat comes alive with the arrival of migratory birds. The small birds, among them snow buntings, arrive first…a sure sign of spring. Numerous species of larger birds follow. Chanting in monotone late into the night, the loons are particularly entertaining. Other notable birds are eider ducks, long-tailed ducks (formerly known as oldsquaw), seagulls, and jaegers. The gulls and jaegers often pick fights with one another, usually over a piece of meat. Visitors will also spot ptarmigan, tundra swans, peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, rough legged hawks and sandhill cranes. Geese, including Canada, Snow and Greater species, are more abundant today than in the 50’s and 60’s, perhaps due to improved vegetation. Further out from the community arctic terns and black guillemots can be found.

    In Naujaat June is known for its manniit (eggs). Arctic terns have some of the best tasting eggs in the Arctic but the terns are very protective and have been known to swoop down and knock a person’s head with their beak so be careful if you want to gather any. In fall and winter ravens and snowy owls can be seen in outlying areas of the community.

    Marine wildlife around Repulse Bay is plentiful; in addition to bearded, ringed, harp and harbour seals the waters in this area are home to bowhead whales.


*Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook