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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic October 03, 2014 - 11:09 am

Taissumani, Oct. 3

The Settling of the Kivalliq Region


It is not generally realized that until the mid-1700s, most of the Kivalliq coast south of Rankin Inlet was not inhabited by Inuit, but rather by Chipewyan Indians.

The late anthropologist Ernest (Tiger) Burch advanced a theory, generally accepted, and summed up by the scholar Renee Fossett, about the peopling of the northern Kivalliq, as follows:

“…Burch suggested that the people of Roes Welcome arrived there via the coast from the Coronation Gulf area sometime after A.D. 1000 when Thule culture people spread from Alaska to Greenland over the course of a few centuries. Because of the Chipewyan occupation of the southern Keewatin, the immigrants were prevented from moving south of Rankin Inlet. Late in the fifteenth century, a group of Coronation Gulf people left the arctic coast in response to deteriorating climatic conditions brought about by the Little Ice Age, and moved overland towards Baker Lake. From there they joined and assimilated with the Thule-descended bands already in residence, or replaced them, or both. By 1715, they were just beginning to move south along the coast and up the rivers into the Chesterfield Inlet-Baker Lake-Thelon River waterway into areas seasonally vacated by the Chipewyan.”

Then white men arrived. Trade with the Hudson’s Bay Co., which established its post at Churchill in 1717, gradually attracted the Inuit south, especially after the company stopped sending its sloops north each summer to trade as far afield as Marble Island. As the Inuit moved south along the coast, the Chipewyan retreated inland and south of the treeline. During the 1700s, then, the Inuit were getting to know this new land, both its coast and its interior.

Then more white men arrived. When whalers arrived in western Hudson Bay in the 1860s, the settlement patterns that were so recent and probably still in a state of flux, became somewhat disrupted as the possibilities for trade lured many Inuit to resettle on or near the seacoast in Foxe Basin and Roes Welcome Sound.

The Qaernirmiut and the Aivilingmiut came to control much of the trade with the whalers, acting as middlemen between the whalers and other groups of Inuit. This disrupted the enviable position that the Paallirmiut had enjoyed, farther south along the coast, between the Churchill trading post and the more northerly Inuit.

By the time of the Fifth Thule Expedition, in the early 1920s, settlement patterns in the region had largely stabilized.

As mentioned last week, the Fifth Thule Expedition in the 1920s described the Inuit of the Kivalliq Region who lived south of the Aivilingmiut, as the “Caribou Eskimos.”

They were primarily but not exclusively inland dwellers, and thus the name, for they relied primarily on caribou for sustenance. They comprised four distinct groups:

The Qaernirmiut, the northernmost group, lived around Baker Lake and between it and the sea-coast. The name was said to mean “the dwellers of the flat land.”

The Harvaqtuurmiut — “the people of the rapids” — lived in the lower Kazan River area.

The Hauniqtuurmiut — the people of the place with the bones” — lived west of Rankin Inlet, between the Harvaqtuurmiut and the sea.

And the Paallirmiut — people of the willow thicket” — lived near Lake Hikoligjuaq, which is shown on most maps as Lake Yathkyed, its Chipewyan name. They were “the biggest and most southerly of the four tribes.”

The scholar Renee Fossett has called this classification “artificial, oversimplified, and sometimes just plain inaccurate” but suggests that scholars have continued to use it because it provides “a concept and a framework that allows for generalization.”

But there was another significant group living isolated in a corner of the Kivalliq Region that was not recorded at all by the scientists of the Fifth Thule Expedition. In fact, the scientists were blissfully unaware of its existence.

This group was the Ahiarmiut, a strange name for a group to identify itself by, for it means “people who live out of the way” or “people from the faraway place.” The faraway place was the Upper Kazan River, and the area close to the treeline between Nueltin Lake and Dubawnt Lake.

One theory, supported by archaeological evidence, is that Inuit did not live on the Upper Kazan River until the early 1800s.

One scholar has noted: “The change in the Company’s trading location [i.e. reliance on the trading post at Churchill and the discontinuance of sloops travelling farther north] as far as the south Keewatin coast Inuit were concerned encouraged and facilitated their permanent move into the interior.”

And so the Ahiarmiut may have been people who moved down the coast and then deep into the interior as late as the early nineteenth century.

Like other Kivalliq Inuit, the Ahiarmiut traded into Churchill. But in the 1860s they began to trade to the south of their isolated territory, deep into the heart of Chipewyan country.

Next week I will tell about the circumstances that caused that significant change in trading patterns.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to


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