To travel efficiently and safely we have to know and understand a lot about winds, snow, ice, weather conditions, place names and routes. Travel, especially for long trips, also involves careful planning and preparation. Even on short trips you have to prepare for the unexpected, such as sudden changes in the weather or mechanical trouble with snowmobiles. Quite often, people have gotten lost between Igloolik and Sanirajak (Hall Beach). Unlike travel by dog team, snowmobile travel is fast and can quickly get you very far from home in a short time. So you have to be prepared even for short trips. Once you are on the land, look around. Learn the Inuktitut terms for directions and winds. Observe how the same land features look from different places. Always try to travel with someone more experienced and ask about the names of places around you.


Below, you'll hear Maurice Arnatsiaq tell us about the importance of preparing for going out onto the land.


on the importance of preparing for going out on the land.​

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"I AM GOING TO TALK TO YOUNG PEOPLE and anyone who doesn’t know navigation well. When we were growing up, we were growing up before the introduction of navigational instruments. We were taught by our fathers, grandfathers, uncles... and they taught us about the weather and snow forms. Going away from the community, the weather sometimes changes every day to different kinds of weather. Every day, when you are preparing to go on a hunting trip, prepare yourself by taking everything you will need, in case anything happens to you. Even if you were in a rush to get out there, make a list of the things you need. When you get stuck out there on the land, the things you left behind simply don’t appear... they don’t just walk to you! In that case, you need to know the snow forms, where you are going, and how far is it that you are going. As you are travelling towards your destination you always have to observe where you are travelling, what snow conditions there are, and the kinds of snowdrifts. These are formed by strong winds. These drifts always form in a certain way and this doesn't change."


Before you start on a trip, it is very important to pack a good sled, and be prepared for extra days on the land. Visibility can change; you may lose your way following a track or; your snowmobile may break down. As Maurice Arnatsiaq shows us, packing a sled depends on where you are going and what activity you are doing.


In the video clip watch Maurice Arnatsiaq prepare a sled for seal hunting at the floe-edge.


Inuit use place names passed down from generations to describe and navigate the land and its features. Place names usually describe landforms such as lakes, rivers, hills, rocks, bays and islands. They can also refer to areas on the sea ice and to places where hunting and fishing activities take place. Although maps and gps technologies are also used today, place names, through their social and cultural histories, continue to affirm the close bond between Inuit and their lands. They also serve as commonly known reference points for hunters when they exchange information about their travels or plan hunting trips.


The place names included on this map are a small selection of named places on and around Igloolik island. On the Lesson Plans tab you can find a PDF labeled "Place Name Descriptions for the Igloolik Area.” It contains detailed descriptions and locations of hundreds of place names in the Igloolik area. This document originated as part of a place names research project initiated by the Government of the Northwest Territories in 1993 aimed at replacing European-named locations with their original Inuit names on the area's maps. In Igloolik, the research work was conducted by Emile Imaruittuq and André Uttak.


on the importance of using place names in travel.

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"INUIT ALWAYS USE THE NAME of a location to determine where they are going. Most of the landmarks have their own names, so it is important that these place names are passed on. In our times, we knew the names of places… we knew place names from the time of our youth. Places should have names. These names should be well known. We knew the place names; we learned these from our parents. For instance, if a hunter had left behind a catch or something worth returning for, and I was to be asked to go and get it, if I knew the location of the place name that he mentioned, then, using the direction of the wind, I would be able to retrieve the item. He would also mention how far the object is from that place name. With these instructions, I would be able to go and retrieve the object. That was the way we used to do it in our youth" (Antonen Qunnut 2001, IE-505).


on how to go to a specific place using a nearby place name and wind direction.

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Q.  If you were to mention a named place, like Uqquarmiut and so on, were you able to identify its occupants only by mentioning the place name?

A.  Yes. If someone mentioned a place name, and the target location is close to that place. The wind direction was the most helpful in finding a location. A place name is called out and your target location is at its Uangnaq (NW), or it might be at its Kanangnaq, Akinnangani, or to the direction of Nigiq, then you can go and look for an object based on those directions. It is important that place names are visible, as this would help you to go and look for something. It is just like using map bearings with all the numbers. It is identical to that.


Learn more about the places of Igloolik by clicking through the photos below.


Maps are used today, along with other instruments such as GPS, but it is still very important to know what landmarks look like when you are travelling. Furthermore, maps do not show some small features such as rocks, or inuksugait, that are sometimes very important in finding your way. If you know the names of places around you, you have less chance of getting lost, and it will be easier for you to describe where you are in case of need. When visibility is good, you should take the opportunity to look around. Not only in front of you as you drive your snowmobile, but also to the sides, and behind you. Observe how the landmarks look when approaching them from different directions. Every once in a while, stop your machine and look around. If you are travelling with an experienced person, ask him or her the names of the land around you. 


on learning landmarks. ​

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Q.  Before the maps were used, how did the people find their way around?

A.  It was someone who knew about routes that would give the directions to someone who would be travelling [to a specific location] for the first time. The directions would include mention of lakes, the shape of land, landmarks, inuksugait, and everything that could describe the way. Nothing was written. The instructions were given orally.

Q.  I guess the person who gave instructions to someone who did not know the way had to visualize the entire route.

A.  Some people gave very detailed information so that you could almost picture the place where you are going. Even if you had not taken the route before you would recognize the places from the instructions you were given. When I was growing up and learning to go places that was the only way I learned. Nothing was ever written, nor were maps not used (Hubert Amarualik IE-314, 1994). 


While travelling across straits of open water or sea ice, named places are marks on familiar horizons. When you are crossing Ikiq [Fury and Hecla Strait], for instance, you should be able to recognize all the names around you. Imagine you are standing on Igloolik Island scanning the horizon toward the Northeast. Notice all the place names you can see.


Zoom in and drag across the Northeast horizon above to get to know the places of Igloolik.



Many trails around Igloolik have been used for generations. It is important to know the trails because they will take you to your destination over the best possible ground either on the land or on the sea ice. When you use trails be very sure that the trail you are following is the right one. Pay attention to the land features and always make sure you are travelling on the right trail. Even when you have a GPS, always try to keep on the well-established trail to your destination. GPS can only show you a straight-line direct route to your destination which could take you over dangerous areas, including thin ice. By keeping to the proper trails, you are more likely to be easily found should you break down or have to stop because of bad weather.


on the different names for trails.

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"Sometimes I hear, especially from younger people, that they tend to make mistakes... at least I notice when they mention this. Whenever they see a track, even a single track, a track of something... it might even be a snowmobile... they would refer to it as igliniq. These are not what we would term a trail; they are only tracks, one track. The only time they become trails are when the same track is used over and over again, in both directions... this is what we term an igliniq."

Q.  For instance, if Ikiq freezes over, how are we going to get a trail that leads across the strait?


on the different names for trails. ​

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Q.  Is there another term for igliniq?

A.  I [don't] believe so. At least I have not heard about it. Ever since I started to remember the things that happened around me it has always been referred to as igliniq. I always heard the word "igliniq". As soon as you hear this term you immediately know what it means: that it is a trail that is used. Indeed a well-trodden trail.

Q.  They are not iniit (tracks)?

A.  They are not iniit, which are usually tracks left by one [snowmobile]. Then there are times when one can refer to a trail as iglinikuluk (a small igliniq). This is usually in reference to few tracks. If I were to say inisiarpunga ("I found a track"), it means I came across a lone track (Louis Alianakuluk IE-481, 2001). 


Using a trail involves knowledge of the winds, snow, ground conditions, and place names. Travellers need to recognize landmarks on the horizon to be aware of their direction of travel and to always know where they are. Many elders retain the details of long trails in their memories.


Click, zoom and drag on the map to follow the section of trail that Hervé Paniaq describes below.


on the Igloolik-Arctic Bay trail.

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"Starting from Tuullikatik, which has long been known as a camping site, pretty much guaranteeing that there is enough blown snow there with which to build an igloo. From there you'll note that if you look at your surroundings there's a route to Aggu. From here, if you are facing towards Arctic Bay, you can see a lower elevation to your right. There is also a lower elevation to your left and this is the route to Aggu. That's through Saputit Lake which is just over the hill. Continuing on, a bit to the right from here you would see Kiglavaarjuk. It is quite noticeable in that it is shaped like this [indicating]. It's a hill of some sort, and it looks like a snowplough went through it. And again towards the sea, going towards Arctic Bay, you'll note that the land is flat all the way... it looks flat. Again, you use the Uangnaq snowdrifts [uqalurait] to navigate towards the sea ice in that you are crossing them at somewhat of an angle; not crossing them at right angles, nor driving parallel to them, but at an angle closer to hitting them right on in this way using the uqalurait to navigate. Once you get closer to sea ice, you'll notice that the land is slightly sloping downwards [...] so you're slowly going down towards the sea ice. Once down at the shoreline, there will only be one [tidal] crack before you reach the ice proper...


Experienced travellers learn different ways to navigate under different circumstances. They pay attention to snow formations, changes in wind direction, weather conditions, and even star movements and the position of the sun. They also know the names of places, and the landmarks associated with them, and use this knowledge to inform others of their location and travels. It is important to look around and be observant when travelling in good weather. Memorizing the details of the land and trails will be crucial to you when having to travel in bad weather.

"In the past, when we used dog teams, we wouldn't be travelling as fast as they do nowadays... and even if it was poor visibility we wouldn't go round in circles [here, Piugaattuk indicates a circle with his hand]. Strong winds cause snowdrifts to form on the ground, and around rocks and rough ice. If there are no stars to navigate with and the visibility is poor, then using your feet to feel the snowdrifts would ensure that you stay on the right course. If there is a strong wind from this direction [pointing to the Northwest], then the snowdrifts will form in that direction. It is essential that people know about this today when visibility is poor. If you are aware of the snowdrifts you can generally go towards your destination...


on the many different methods of wayfinding.​

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