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History of the project

In 1983, Avataq Cultural Institute and the Indigenous Names Surveys (Department of Geography, McGill University) initiated the Nunatop Project. The objective was to systematically collect Inuit geographical names for the entire Nunavik region (then referred to as Nouveau-Québec). This project fulfilled a resolution to preserve Inuit place names that was passed in 1981 at the Northern Quebec Inuit Elders Conference. The Elders, who were concerned with the survival of their culture and language, stated clearly that priorities had to be established in order to protect traditional oral knowledge, including place names.

The project was directed by Ludger Müller Wille and assisted by Johnny Palliser and Helen O’Weetaluktuk, who both conducted the toponymic surveys. In early 1984, place names from the coasts, offshore islands, and interior of Nunavik, were gathered through interviews conducted with elders and hunters in each community. The surveys also incorporated Inuit place names that had been previously collected by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure in 1968, and by Avataq Cultural Institute and Ludger Müller-Wille from 1980 to 1982.

In 1987, the Gazetteer of Inuit Place Names in Nunavik (Quebec, Canada) (Müller-Wille, 1987) was published and presented to the Elders Conference in Kuujjuaq. This publication, which includes close to 8 000 original Inuit place names, was approved unanimously by the Elders. The Gazetteer lists place names in roman and syllabic orthography, along with type description, coordinates, and reference to the topographic map.  It also includes an introduction with a detailed description of the surveys and the methodology that had been specifically developed for the project. The Elders encouraged Avataq Cultural Institute and the Indigenous Names Surveys to expand the Nunatop project through a publications program, in order to enhance knowledge of Inuit place names among Inuit and in institutional sectors like education and governmental agencies.


In 1988, Avataq Cultural Institute put forward a request to the Commission de toponymie du Québec (CTQ) that  Nunavik be recognized as the regional name for the Inuit homeland in northern Quebec. This name was selected from among eight options through a referendum held in 1986 in all Inuit communities. The name was officially recognized in April 1988. In addition, on behalf of Avataq, the Indigenous Names Surveys submitted all Inuit place names located within Quebec to CTQ for official governmental approval. By December 2020, more than 4 500 Inuit place names on the mainland of Nunavik have been formally recognized by authorities. Avataq Cultural Institute still collaborates with CTQ in order to validate and ensure recognition of new Inuit place names, and to provide audio guides for correct pronunciation of place names in Inuktitut (for non-Inuit speakers).

In late 1988, the Nunatop project reached a new phase with the initiation of the Inuit Place Name Map Series of Nunavik (Müller-Willie, ed. 1991). This map series outlined the places in Inuktitut with basic information also given in French and English. Between 1988 and 1995, Avataq published six map sets of this kind, covering six communities (Kangiqsualujjuaq, Kuujjuaq, Kangiqsujuaq, Inukjuak, Umiujaq, Kuujjuaraapik). Unfortunately, financial issues meant that the Nunatop project was then paused for another 15 years. The rest of Nunavik’s communities have had to wait until now for maps with their place names.

In 2012, Avataq Cultural Institute re‐launched the project. Between 2012 and 2014, a team travelled in 11 communities to conduct toponymic surveys with land-users. Over 100 elders and hunters were interviewed to complete the collection of place names and to review previous surveys. Simultaneously, the team was also mandated to confirm and collect names of off-shore islands, pursuant to the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement (NILCA) for Makivik Corporation.

Following the toponymic field surveys, a database was built to house the information in syllabic and roman letters. With this tool it was easy to make additions and modifications. A Technical Report explaining the details of this process in relation to cartographic and spatial database management is available to download here.

By 2019, Avataq Cultural Institute had developed an original map template, along with Info Tierra, and the final collection of maps has now been completed and released via this website. This is the first edition of the complete Inuit Place names of Nunavik Map Series.

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