[ pop: under 800 ]
by Miriam Fleming
Nunavuts southernmost community, Sanikiluaq, is located on the Belcher
Islands in southeastern Hudson Bay, about 150 kms. Off the coast of Quebec. Although more
than 1,000 kms. South of the Arctic Circle, the islands are distinctly arctic. No trees
grow here and, except in the valleys, only a thin layer of soil covers the ground. The
islands peak is 155 metres above sea level, some cliffs rise from 50 to 70 metres.
Fly on a clear day into Sanikiluaq via Umiujaq,
Quebec, and youll see the immensity of the Belcher Islands. Spread out over 3,000
square kilometers, they consist of about 1,500 islands many of which are very small
and form the largest group of islands in Hudson Bay. The main group of the
archipelago forms an S-shaped pattrern whose long, narrow peninsulas are separated by
clearly defined channels.
Although Sanikiluaq (pronounced san-ee-kil-u-wak)
is the only permanent settlement in the islands, many Inuit live and camp throughout the
archipelago during spring and summer. Sanikiluaq, namede after a local Inuk man, lies on
the main group of islands, on a narrow piece of land near the north end of Flaherty Island,
bounded by Eskimo Harbour to the north and Sanikiluaq Lake to the south.
In a world thas being resculpted by
industrial developments, residents have worked hard to ensure that traditional knowledge
has a place in modern environmental management.
A recent community-conducted study has
amassed traditional knowledge from 28 Inuit and Cree communities around Hudson Bay, James
Bay and Hudson Strait for use in the regions environmental assessment in the face of
northern Quebecs Great Whale hydro-electric project. The research has resulted in a
book, Voices from the Bay: Traditional Ecological
Knowledge of Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay Bioregion. Sanikiluaq received a 1995
award from the Friends of the United Nations citing it as one of 50 exemplary communities,
worldwide, committed to building a sense of common unity. The studys headquarters
are in the Hudson Bay Office in Sanikiluaq.
Inuit have inhabited the Belcher Island for centuries. While
some ancestors of present-day inhabitants migrated here from northern Quebec, others came
when the Thule culture was declining between AD 1200 and 1400. Earlier occupation is
evidenced in the archeological sites of the Dorset culture from 500 BC to AD1000.
The islands came to the attention of outsiders after Henry Hudson spotted them in
1610. More than 230 years later Thomas Wiegand, a servant of the Hudsons Bay Co.,
led an exploration party from Fort George (Chisasibi, Quebec) to the area. It was another
60 years before Robert Flaherty and his crew became the first qallunaat (white people) to winter here. In 1915 he
and his men survived the winter by using the wood from their ship for fuel.
Inuit survived Belcher Islands through their ingenuity. In the late 1800s
when the caribou disappeared from the islands, women began sewing winter parkas from eider
duck skins. The men were renowned for their knowledge of the ice fields and their dogs
were popular trade items during annual trips to mainland posts. They were respected as
well for their kayaking skills and the two person kayaks that they navigated adeptly
around the island and the bay.
A Hudsons Bay Co. trading post opened in 1928 and operated sporadically until
the 1950s. It was relocated from Tukarak Island to Eskimo Harbour in 1961.
That same year the federal government
built a school in the southern part of Flaherty Island.
The community of Sanikiluaq was established in 1971 when the government centralized
its services, moving the buildings and inhabitants of South Camp (where the school was) to
North Camp (where the trading post was). Today Sanikiluaq is a growing, modern settlement
whose economy is based on subsistence hunting, fishing, tourism and soapstone carving..
Sanikiluaq: Land & Wildlife
Most of the small islands in the archipelago provide breeding
grounds for several species of ducks & geese (including eider, merganser, Brant &
Canada). Rock crevices, lakes and ponds are summer home to many other migrating birds.
Most of the species that nest or visit are water birds including red-throated, common
& arctic loons, black guillemot, arctic tern and gulls. There are also a few land
birds like rock ptarmigan, rough legged hawk, peregrine falcon, snowy owl, horned lark, Lapland
longspur and snow bunting.
Arctic char and whitefish are found in the rivers and lakes. Coastal waters are a source of cod, capelin,
lumpfish and sculpin. They are also home to ring, bearded and harbour seals, beluga whale,
walrus and Polar bear. On the tundra fox, arctic hare and lemmings can be found along with
reindeer that were introduces in 1978, about 100 years after the caribou disappeared.
Sanikiluaq has weather that can be blustery and unpredictable. The islands are
surrounded by open sea and high winds and storms can arise suddenly. Information on daily
temperatures and wind conditions can be obtained from the local observer/communicator at
the local airport.
*Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook