For centuries, Inuinnait have literally been at home on the land. Our physical environment provides all the materials we need to not only survive, but also to thrive, in the extreme climate of the Arctic. Our winter houses, igluit, are made of snow. Our tents, tupiit, created from the skins of caribou and other animals that sustain us with food. The tree line at the southern edge of our territory once provided us with the wood we need to frame our tents, buildings and transportation.
With the introduction of outside culture, ideas and materials to our region starting around 1910, our patterns of life began to change. Despite this, we were largely in control of our own housing and living environments. We honoured the old ways and borrowed and adapted new technologies and designs on an as-needed basis, adopting only the features we felt improved our lives.
Major transitions began in the 1950s. The year 1952 saw the start of a major infrastructure program by the Canadian and American governments to introduce a chain of continental defence radars known as the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW-Line) along the entire length of the Arctic, from Alaska to Greenland. This process fast-tracked the arrival of non-Inuit and a federal sense of ownership over the Canadian Arctic. Many of our people were coerced into moving off the land and into urban settlements, where administration of our lives was easier to enforce. Inadequate town housing was provided to us, as we had lost access to the resources we needed to build own own. Residential schooling removed our children from their families and systematically weakened the generational transfer of knowledge and language important to maintaining traditional homes.
Critical knowledge surrounding Inuinnait architecture has begun to be lost. As reliance on western housing increased, so have the social and wellness issues related to living in them. The houses being built in our communities are often high cost, overcrowded, made with low-grade materials, and have designs unsuited to our cultural lifestyle. This takes a toll on our physical and mental health, which further impacts the lives we lead outside of our homes.
Barriers to Improved Housing across the Inuit Region
Infographic source: Canadian Geographic Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada
For over a decade, PI/KHS has held programs designed to break the deep cycle of housing that does not fit Inuit culture or lives. This work researches and builds awareness around architectural and spatial principles that Inuinnait have successfully followed for centuries. By investigating archaeological dwellings and traditional knowledge of cultural structures, and showcasing the ways that contemporary northerners are innovating outside of imposed architecture, we have begun to outline key steps for transforming the ways that future buildings are conceived and designed for the Arctic.
Inuinnait have a rich history of living in the Arctic. Since 1999, Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society has worked with universities, museums and professional archaeologists to document the lives and traditions of those who came before us. This includes studying architecture's evolution in our region over thousands of years.
We encourage archaeological research that involves local elders and youth, and that finds meaningful ways to build knowledge about the past and communicate it through public excavations, oral history documentation and the development of educational resources.
The Nunamiutuqaq project is guided by Inuinnait knowledge developed over centuries of making ourselves at home in this land. Since 1996, PI/KHS has been working with Inuinnait Elders and scholars to document and transfer this knowledge to future generations.
This section profiles PI/KHS projects that have dealt with Inuinnait knowledge related to the technologies and traditions surrounding lived spaces in the Arctic: from houses, to shelters to places of gathering.