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Google Maps Brings Nunavut’s Inuit to the World With Street Views of Cambridge Bay

Literally putting Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, on the map, Google Maps visited the remote northern hamlet and photographed it for Street View, the Internet feature that gives people a sense of being in a place, to help the Inuit teach the world about their people.
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When Chris Kalluk approached Google last year with the idea of educating the world about the Canadian Arctic and the Inuit who live there, he most likely didn’t realize how quickly that would come to pass. The arrival of tricycle-toting Google personnel in and of itself has gone viral, sparking worldwide headlines. Even The New York Times has taken note.

“People that have never been in the north, past trees, in communities you can only get to by airplanes; they just don’t know,” the 28-year-old Kalluk told The New York Times in a phone interview from his home in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, explaining the reason for his idea. “They wonder if we live in igloos and travel by dog team. I spoke with an elder the other day who said that the land belongs to all the people, so everyone should be able to see it.”

This week Google staff came bearing cameras, tricycles and other equipment to obtain 360-degree images of the streets of 1,477-population Cambridge Bay (Ikaluktutiak, as it’s known locally), where the preferred mode of transportation is the snowmobile, as The New York Times pointed out.

On August 22 Kalluk, who works as a geographical information systems coordinator for the land-claims-administration organization Nunavut Tunngavik (NTI), hosted what Google calls a community Map Up event in which about a dozen volunteers, including elders, local mapping experts and teens, added roads, rivers and lakes to the project via Google mapmaker software.

“But they didn’t stop there,” Google posted on its Lat Long blog. “Using both English and Inuktitut, one of Nunavut’s official languages, they added the hospital, daycare, a nine-hole golf course, a territorial park and, finally, the remnants of an ancient Dorset stone longhouse which pre-dates Inuit culture.”

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper also dropped by. In the neighborhood on his annual tour of the north, he and his wife checked out the mapmaking software, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Next, Google staff pedaled around town on August 24 and 25 on the Street View trike, as it is known in the company. Outfitted with cameras and satellite-positioning equipment, it snaps images that give the desk-chair observer the as-if-you-were-there detailed picture of the place that Google Maps viewers have come to know.

Kalluk and other residents will be trained, Google said, to do the same in other Nunavut communities and continue building “the most comprehensive and accurate map of Canada’s Arctic.” It's the farthest north that Google Maps has gone to date, but like the Map Up participants, the company wants to keep going, "empowering a community and putting Cambridge Bay on the proverbial map of tomorrow."

Place names will also be in Inuktitut. The project marked the culmination of 11 months of planning and meetings with elders and political leaders of the hamlet, according to AFP.

Although Google will take the trike back for future use in other Nunavut cities, the company did leave 10 Chromebooks and is lending 360-degree camera gear to NTI, Google Maps team leader Karin Tuxen-Bettman told AFP.

“This is a place with a vast amount of local knowledge and a rich history,” Kalluk said, according to Google. “By putting these tools in the hands of our people, we will tell Nunavut’s story to the world.”