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Northern Territory: Taiga and tundra

The tundra vegetation consists in dwarf trees, bushes, berries and grasses
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)
The tundra
  • The tundra
  • Eriophorum sp.

The keepers of the North

The Inuit belong to the Eskimo-Aleut cultural family that extends from Greenland to Siberia, via Alaska. They live beyond the forests, in the tundra, with its short, sparse vegetation growing on base rock. The Cree, Inuit and Naskapi, the most northerly representatives of the Algonquian language family, live below the tree line, in the taiga, with its open black spruce forest and its spongy soil covered by lichen and moss.

The Inuit of Nunavik live in 15 villages located along the coasts of Ungava Bay, Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay. Just over 10,000 people make up their population, 60 % of whom are under 30 years old. The Inuit have occupied the territory of Nunavik for over 4,000 years.

A vast inhabited territory

Traditionally nomadic, the Inuit know this territory better than anyone. Located north of the 55th parallel, it represents a third of the surface area of Québec. It was at the turn of the 1950s that this population, divided into small family groups, settled down in villages.

Today, the most populous communities are Kuujjuaq, Puvirnituq, Salluit and Inukjuak. In these villages, one often finds the clinic, the cooperative, the school, a small airport and the town council.

In the taiga and forest tundra, in the hinterlands and along the coast, the Cree, Innu and Naskapi also hunt and trap the caribou, beaver and black bear, fish for pike and salmonidae, and pick small fruit under the forest canopy.

A useful nordic vegetation

The tundra vegetation consists in dwarf trees, bushes, berries and grasses. They are the nunajait, or "things of the Earth", each with their utility. The catkins of the uqaujarlaq, or willow tree, are mixed with seal oil and eaten. The leaves of the paurngaq, or black crowberry, are used to make tea. Suputik, or cotton-grass, can be used as wicks for soapstone oil lamps.

Along the coast, the last resting place of the trees, floating logs are washed up from who knows where. The driftwood used to be collected to build Inuit sleds and boats, including the one- or two-passenger kayak, and to build the umiak, which can carry up to twenty people.

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