The hamlet of Grise Fiord is home to 130 permanent residents as of December 2016. Like many other remote places in the world, we have our own distinct dialect, a variant of Inuktitut that originates from the 1953 relocation of our founding families. It’s a mixture of Northern Québec and Tununirqmiut (North Baffin) dialects. The Inuit Language (‘Inuktut’ — which includes both Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun), English, and French are the three Official Languages of Nunavut. English has become the primary information language spoken in most households up here. Sadly, for the preservation of the Inuit Language, English has been used more and more regularly over the past 65 years.
Until 1970, most Inuit in the Canadian Arctic did not use last names. For example, the Aqiatushuk family included Paddy, Isa, Akiatashak (1953), Akeeagok (1958), Ningyou (1960), Paulasie (1953) and Peeyameenee (1962). The only member of that family with a second name was Tookeekee Kiguktak (1964). Then, in 1970, Abraham Ookpik visited every Inuk home to introduce surnames. In Grise Fiord each individual was given a last name of their own choosing. Some people chose to use baptismal names. Larry Audlaluk became Larry Akeeatushuk Audlaluk, Paulasie became Paulasie Nungaq, Akeeagok became Gamaliel Akeeagok, Ningyou used his father’s name to become Ningyou Killiktee, and Peeyameenee became Abraham Pijamini. Tookeekee, who was the local exception, just used what he had always used before, Tookeekee Kiguktak.
Some people in Grise Fiord feel that they have an important role to play in protecting Canada’s borders in the far north. The closest land to the North Pole is Nunavut, Canada. Grise Fiord is located a mere 943 miles (1517 km) from it. Under International Law, no country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. Canada is one of the five Arctic coastal nations — including USA, Russia, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland) — that are currently in dispute over who owns the continental shelf resources located under the Arctic Ocean. Although Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, most Inuit in this part of Canada feel their ancestral roots with Greenlandic Inuit are stronger than international borders. They feel that these people are neighbours and not foreigners. In a more perfect circumpolar world, Inuit from Canada, Greenland, Russia and Alaska would abolish their borders.
The Inuktitut name for Grise Fiord is ‘Aussuittuq’ which means ‘place that never melts.’ An interpreter working for the Government of the Northwest Territories introduced this Inuktitut place name in 1973. But, because the Grise Fiord residents did not choose this new place name for themselves, some people still refuse to recognize it.
The English name Grise Fiord is originally Norwegian. The word ‘grise’ is Norwegian for ‘pig.’ The famous Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup named this place ‘Pig Fiord’ back in 1899 because the noisy snorting sounds of basking walrus herds reminded him of grunting pigs.
The Sverdrup expedition of 1898-1901 charted the western and eastern coasts of Ellesmere Island and discovered Axel Heiberg Island, Amund Ringnes Island and Ellef Ringnes Island. His original plan was to chart the northern reaches of Greenland, but severe ice conditions in Kane Basin prevented him from doing so. Sverdrup wintered at Pim Island then moved on to explore Ellesmere Island. He named a small fiord after his ship, the ‘Fram,’ when they were forced to seek refuge there. Harbour Fiord became his second wintering spot. In the fall of 1899, Sverdrup made several ‘short outings’ to explore the larger area. One outing took him over 100 kilometres to what is now called Boat Fiord. While he and his party were away, one of his sailors died of illness. His burial cross is erected at Harbour Fiord. The maps that Otto Sverdrup made were so accurate they were used until 1956.
Inuit have survived and thrived in the harsh Arctic conditions for centuries by hunting and harvesting the wildlife, by making igloos, using dog-teams, kayaks, utilizing animal hides for protective winter clothing — and by teaching all this knowledge to their children. The wisdom of Inuit ancestors passed onto new generations continues to be very important today. It’s true that Inuit have very detailed names for different types of snow. Traditional skills such as drumming, throat singing, winter clothing making and igloo building are now taught in school. Since the Federal Day School opened in Grise Fiord in 1962, the traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering has shifted more toward a wage-earning economy. Snowmobiles were introduced in 1967 and by 1969 dog-teams were no longer being used. Some Inuit traditions are still very much alive today however, such as the use of traditional hunting gear, harpoon, harpoon head, qamutik (sled), ulu (woman’s knife), skin boots (kamiks) and skin clothes for warmth and protection.
The traditional Inuit diet is now supplemented by store-bought groceries, but hunting continues here year-round. In the spring and summer Peary Caribou, Narwhal and Walrus are harvested, while Arctic Char are fished in Jones Sound. Seal hunting is constant, providing an important natural source of food for a healthy family diet. Sometimes called the King of the Arctic, ‘Nanuk,’ the Polar Bear is hunted seasonally by quota. Also the Muskox is hunted, the great Pleistocene ‘megafauna’ survivor from the last Ice Age.
From 1953 to 1970, tourism did not exist up here. Nowadays tourists enjoy our 24-hour daylight and the midnight sun. No matter who you are, visitors are always welcome here. It doesn’t take very long for visitors to see how close-knit our community is. It is also very friendly! In Grise Fiord, we welcome you with open arms and we invite you to come participate in our annual Nunavut Day, July 9th celebrations!