When people say ‘Arctic, ’ Nunavut is what they mean: a supergiant, blizzard-wracked, frost-shattered land of peaks, polar bears, icebergs – and a population that rounds to zero. Size-wise, this place dwarfs Mexico, but supports fewer folks than Liechtenstein.
The people who are here are Inuit. In their language, nunavut means ‘our land.’ More than any other Aboriginal group in the hemisphere, they remain master of their ancient homeland, enduring – no, adoring – a place so harsh foreigners could never quite conquer it. Inuit form 85% of the territory’s population and, thanks to the separation of Nunavut from the Northwest Territories in 1999, enjoy democratic control of the government, plus legal title to millions of acres. But Nunavut governs them too. Natural rhythms prevail and if you visit when caribou are in the hills you may find everyone has closed shop and gone hunting.
For travelers, Nunavut is a paradox: it’s so odd and imposing that you’ll never grow complacent, but you’ll quickly run out of affordable things to do. You’ll also need patience: polar weather unravels itineraries. Moreover, people here can be maddeningly unhelpful.
The best tourism opportunities are on southern Baffin Island, which has intriguing communities and two utopian parks for hiking, paddling and wildlife-viewing. Further afield is the Kivalliq region on the Hudson Bay coast, the Kitikmeot on the Arctic shore, and the islands of the High Arctic. Even devout do-it-yourselfers should contemplate tackling Nunavut via a cruise vessel or an organized tour, in order to manage the size, cost and logistical hurdles of this place – and to avoid the too-real danger of things going pear-shaped in the polar wilds.