John Amagoalik was born at a seasonal camp near Inukjuaq in northern Quebec. At the age of five, his family and 17 others were relocated to the high Arctic communities of Resolute and Grise Fiord. He was educated at residential schools in Churchill and Iqaluit.
Amagoalik began his political career as the Baffin Regional Information Officer with the Northwest Territories territorial government, a position he held from 1971 to 1974. It was at around this time that he became the first of many to call for the creation of an Inuit homeland, to be called ‘Nunavut’. To help achieve this goal, he acted as head of the NWT Nunavut Land Claims Commission from 1977 to 1979. When that organization dissolved, Amagoalik became part of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, acting as its vice-president from 1979 to 1981, and serving two terms as president (1981-85; 1988-91). At the same time, from 1982 to 1985, he was co-chair of the Inuit Committee on National Issues; in 1986-87, he was chair of the Nunavut Constitutional Forum. From 1991 to 1993, he was a political advisor to the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut. After the ratification of the Nunavut Act in 1993, Amagoalik was appointed chief commissioner of the Nunavut Implementation Commission, the organization overseeing the arrangements leading up to Nunavut's creation on April 1, 1999.
Amagoalik has received accolades for his work with Aboriginal rights and the Nunavut claim, including the ITC's 20th Anniversary Award, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and an honorary degree from St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.