NWT Culture

Canada's Northwest Territories (NWT) is composed of 33 communities spread over more than one million square kilometres. It is home to five regions including the Dehcho Region, South Slave Region, North Slave Region, Sahtu Region, and the Beaufort Delta Region. There are 11 official languages and three distinct Indigenous groups across the territory:  First Nations, Inuvialuit and Métis. 

The rich heritage and traditions of the territory’s First Nations peoples have always been an integral part of their cultures. With little else than what could be found in nature, these groups were able to survive and flourish in the harsh Arctic landscape. This spirit can still be seen today in residents who still live a traditional way of life including hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering from the land. 

The arrival of the North West Company in the late 1700s (and the Hudson Bay Company shortly there after) brought new influences and opportunities to the First Nations peoples’ subsistence lifestyle. With this, the trade of locally harvested furs for manufactured goods became the main economic driver of the NWT throughout much of the next century. By the mid-1800s, modern materials and designs were being used in traditional arts and fine crafts, giving way to raw materials what were gathered and processed from the land.

The fur industry remained strong until the late-1900s when less demand and lower prices lead to a downturn in the fur trade. Subsequently, people moved off the land to access wage economy, schooling and medical care. In recent years however, wild fur from the NWT has record high prices at market and residents who still harvest from the land are encouraged to continue this sustainable lifestyle. As well, many youth are now working to revitalize traditional art techniques and ensure they are preserved for future generations.

Today, the NWT is made up of a multicultural population from all parts of Canada and the world. Many arrive here looking for adventure, opportunity, or just something different. All are inspired by the beauty and space of the North’s natural landscape to explore and create. 

The NWT Arts Program represents the eclectic mix of artists that call the NWT their home – from visual artists that create traditional and contemporary arts and fine crafts, to filmmakers, photographers, literary artists and performing artists – all have a piece of art with a story to share with you.