Nunavut was officially created on April 1, 1999. The territory covers the eastern and northern parts of what were, up until that time, the Northwest Territories, including an area of some two million square kilometres. Over 85% of its inhabitants are of Inuit origin.

The history of the Northwest Territories (and, by extension, Nunavut's) is rooted in the history of Canada. In 1869, two years after Confederation, the Hudson Bay Company ceded its territories which had been known as Rupert's Land— to the new government for a few million dollars and 20% of the arable land. Large sections were gradually sectioned off to create Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Yukon, or to increase the area of Quebec and Ontario. The year 1999, with the birth of Nunavut, marked the culmination of the largest land claim made by the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic.

The growth of the co-operative movement enabled the Inuit to meet and organize politically. The first Inuit co-operative was established in Kangiqsualujjuaq (formerly Rivière Georges in New Quebec) in 1959. The movement quickly spread to almost all the communities in the Arctic, putting an end to the Hudson Bay Company's trade monopoly. From that time onward, contact with the "South" intensified.

At that time, the federal government, concerned about Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic, introduced various population settlement programs: acculturating education in religious schools, elimination of dogs, housing supports, police and health care services, identification by number and then by name, forced occupation of land, declarations of sovereignty, and so forth. The use of English spread, especially in the school system, which long prohibited the teaching of the Inuit language.

The French language was spoken in the area. Already whaling crews and merchant vessel crews were composed largely of Francophones who had been part of waves of European immigration to American states bordering on Quebec or Acadia. Moreover, educational institutions were often run by religious orders with a large Francophone component keen on proselytizing. Oblate missionaries founded a number of parishes between 1910 and 1950.

Between 1904 and 1920, Captain Joseph-Elzéard Bernier and his crew explored the waters of the Arctic Ocean on behalf of the Government of Canada in order to assert Canadian sovereignty. In the 1970s, Frobisher Bay began to increasingly resemble a head-office town with the opening of many federal government regional offices. Many of the government staff at that time spoke French, as did almost all of the employees at Bell Canada's new regional office. Thus, the Association des francophones de Frobisher Bay was founded in 1981, which became the Association francophone d'Iqaluit in 1987, and then the Association des francophones du Nunavut in 1997.