Nunavut is a vast area spanning almost two million square kilometers, covering 20% of Canada's landmass, and accounting for two-thirds of Canada's coastline. Of Nunavut's almost 31,000 residents, 85% are Inuit who form the foundation of the territory's culture. Nunavut's population is the youngest in Canada with a median age of 23.1 years. The territorial economy has developed into a mixed economy where traditional uses of the land, or the “land-based” economy, co-exist with the emerging “wage-based” economy. Development of opportunities in mining, fisheries, arts and culture, and tourism has helped to contribute to strong Nunavut gross domestic product growth, For the period 1999 to 2006 Nunavut placing fourth amongst the provinces and territories and exceeded the Canadian average in terms of growth in gross domestic product.

Key Industries


Mineral exploration is at record levels in all regions of Nunavut. Expenditures of over $200 million on mineral exploration occurred in Nunavut in 2007. The dramatic increase in exploration has lead to the discovery and evaluation of new projects. The Territory’s first diamond mine began production in 2006 and nine other mines are expected to come into production over the next 5 to 10 years. With the development of these new mines significant employment and business opportunities will be created throughout the territory.

In March 2007 the Nunavut Mineral Exploration and Mining Strategy was released publicly. The strategy sets out the Government of Nunavut’s vision for the mining sector and establishes an operational plan for achieving this vision. Given the level of activity expected in the next few years this document will be of great importance in ensuring development of the territory’s mineral resources provide substantive and sustainable benefits to the people of Nunavut.

Fishing and Sealing

The fishing sector has exhibited strong growth in recent years with significant expansion of the offshore shrimp and turbot fisheries in particular. The estimated landed value of turbot for 2006 was over $35 million up almost 50% from the previous year due to strong markets and quota increases. The landed value of shrimp was approximately $3 million up slightly from 2005. The current estimate for the value of direct income from Nunavut fisheries is in the range of $7.5 to $10.5 million annually.

In March 2005 a Nunavut Fisheries Strategy was approved by Cabinet. This strategy, developed as a partnership between the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, focuses on providing economic development opportunities in the offshore and inshore fisheries, as well as the traditional char fishery. Work is ongoing with stakeholders to implement the goals and recommendations identified in the strategy.

Sealing activities in Nunavut is a good example of the mixed economy that continues to support the cultural and social fabric of Nunavut while helping to sustain first-hand knowledge of the land and ecosystems. The food value of ringed seals is estimated at $5 million annually with associated value-added products estimated to be worth $1.5 million.

The development of a sealing strategy by the Government of Nunavut is ongoing. Completion of this strategy will be helpful in trying to maximize the opportunities associated with this resource and also in plotting the course of this industry.


Nunavut has a wealth of resources that can be converted into green energy production including wind and hydro generating potential. Study of the hydroelectric potential in the territory is ongoing with several potential sites having been identified.


Estimates of tourists to Nunavut are in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 annually. A visitor exit survey completed in 2006 recorded 2,500 land-based tourists for the period June through October. Ecotourism, sports hunting, recreational fishing, along with cultural, adventure and education experiences, are key tourism activities in the territory. Cruise ship visits have increased in recent years with the 2006 cruise ship season seeing a total of 26 sailings that visited communities in the territory. Cruise ship visits provide an important source of income for many residents.


Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital, is the site of the Iqaluit Airport which accommodates both international and domestic flights. The Iqaluit Airport has established itself as the world’s premier aerospace cold weather test centre for certifying new or modified aircraft and powerplants. The predictable cold weather and dry conditions along with the relative proximity to the European aircraft manufacturing industry make Iqaluit ideal for cold weather testing. In 2007, seven different aircraft conducted testing at the Iqaluit airport. providing considerable economic spin-offs to Iqaluit.

Arts and Crafts

In the 2004-05 Nunavut Household survey 30% of respondents stated that they were involved in the production of arts and crafts in 2003. Nunavut artists and producers have received international recognition for soapstone carvings, prints, tapestries, wall hangings. This niche has evolved to include new media with Nunavut directors and producers achieving major recognition in the film, broadcasting and new media industries.

The approval and release of Sanaugait: A Strategy for Growth in Nunavut’s Arts and Crafts Sector is a major step in the future development of this important sector. The Strategy was developed through a working group that included members of the Government of Nunavut and also industry. The primary goal of the Strategy is to increase the value of Nunavut’s arts sector through actions that improve quality, stimulate innovation and support sustainability, in partnership with Nunavut artists, their organizations and their communities.

Nunavut's Contributions to the Economy

  • Nominal value of gross domestic product of $1.2 billion in 2006
  • Nominal value of exports of goods of services of $204 million in 2006
  • Nominal personal income per person was $35,540 in 2006 the fourth highest in Canada

A Look to the Future

New jobs are rapidly emerging in the mining and resource development sectors due to exploration and development activities. With a diamond mine currently in operation, the expectation of two additional operating mines in the next three to five years and more prospects for mining developments in the next ten years the industry appears posed to be a significant contributor to the Nunavut economy. Couple these mining prospects with the territory’s significant oil and gas resources and the economic future for Nunavut looks quite promising.

The Nunavut fishery has now become highly competitive supplying significant domestic and international markets. The growth of the industry has seen the development of the Nunavut Fisheries Training Consortium a multi-year stakeholder funding program that is implementing several training initiatives including entry level and higher-level programs, such as Bridge watch and Observer Programs. The stakeholder Consortium is developing the capacity of the people of Nunavut to obtain jobs in this growing sector. Nunavut now has a number of active partners working to ensure the fishery continues to be robust and capitalises upon existing opportunities in the offshore, processing and inshore sectors. The expansion of turbot and shrimp quotas in particular, has provided significant momentum to the industry and offers significant potential for the future growth in communities that are adjacent to these emerging resources.

The seal and fur harvesting sectors has been an important economically and culturally for Nunavut in the past and are expected to continue to contribute to Nunavut’s economy in the future.

The tourism sector is experiencing significant growth, with unique Inuit culture and the outstanding natural beauty of Nunavut continuing to attract tourists from around the world. Three national parks and several territorial parks have been established, offering more attractions for visitors seeking to explore Nunavut's extraordinary beauty. Initiatives such as the ongoing National Marketing Campaign should assist in the promotion of the unique tourism experience offered by Nunavut. The Campaign is an effort by the three territories to change southern perceptions in a number of key areas, one of which is increasing awareness of tourism opportunities in the North.

The development of a trade school in Rankin Inlet is an important step in allowing for greater local participation in the emerging economic opportunities in the territory. This facility is expected to open in 2009 and should help to provide the education and skills development required for the people of Nunavut to benefit from the territory’s rich natural resources and help Nunavut move towards self-reliance.