• The Pan-Inuit Trails atlas maps where Inuit communities have lived and traveled in the North. (Google/Pan-Inuit Trails)

It started with trust. It had to. But it was a trust that was gained slowly, over 15 years of cooperation between three university researchers and the various Inuit communities that dot the Canadian Arctic. Only, they're not dots. As this new interactive online atlas shows, the Inuit have lived in and traveled through vast swathes of the Arctic land, sea and ice. Their historical footprints are the basis for Pan-Inuit Trails (pictured above).

“We’re not outside researchers coming in to exploit the Inuit. We literally and metaphorically give voice to local people,” says atlas co-author Fraser Taylor. He represented Carleton's Cartographic Research Centre, and worked with the Marine Affairs Program at Halifax's Dalhousie University and the geography department at Cambridge University to complete the project.

But not only does Pan-Inuit Trails provide a record of Inuit history, as passed down by the elders and 19th century maps, it also adds weight to the Canadian government's push for Arctic sovereignty and control of the Northwest Passage.

"We show that this is very much Canadian territory, both in land terms and in sea terms," Taylor says.

So what did the Inuit use these trails for? Many of the routes are seasonal, connecting people to places where animals can be found at particular times of the year. They link neighbour with neighbour, establishing connections that span the North American continent from Greenland to Alaska.