This paper compares four maps produced by the Canadian government and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the indigenous peoples’ organisation representing Inuit living in the four recognised Inuit regions (Inuit Nunangat) of Canada. Our analysis is based on publicly available maps, documents, and records and extends the rich existing literature examining the history of definitions of the Canadian north. Distinctly, our research aims to understand the different ways in which the Arctic has been articulated as a geographic, political, and social region during the Harper government (2006–2015) and the effects these articulations have had on northern policy and people. We find that the federal government maintained a flexible definition of the Canadian Arctic as a region when in pursuit of its own policy objectives. However, when it comes to incorporating areas outside the boundaries of Canada's three federal territories, particularly communities along their southern fringes, those boundaries are inflexible. The people who live in these areas, which the state considers to be outside the Canadian Arctic, are marginalised within Arctic public policy in terms of access to federal funds, determination of land use, and a sense of social belonging to the Canadian Arctic. Our goal in this paper is to demonstrate that national-level disputes over what constitutes ‘the Arctic’ can significantly impact the day-to-day lives of people who live within and just outside the region, however it is conceived.