Creation of Nunavut, 1999

Nunavut – A Moment that Matters?

The creation of Nunavut in 1999 was the Canada’s last geographical change. Before Nunavut, there were only two territories in Canada, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon. Nunavut was split from the Northwest Territories and became its own territory[1]. To look at this moment, the context of this geographical change, the description of the moment and the reasons why this moment is so important will be covered in this blog. This moment is very important in Canadian history because in the creation of Nunavut, the Inuit people were able to have a territory in which they were the majority. This is geographically significant because the Inuit were given the largest territory or province in all of Canada. Furthermore, in obtaining the territory, the Inuit people were able to use their language, practice their culture and represent themselves with their traditional symbols. This is socially significant as an Indigenous group in Canada were able to live their life a more traditional way. Lastly, in the new territory the Inuit were self-governing, meaning they were also able to have a substantial amount of political power over themselves and how they live.[2]

 

In What Context Was Nunavut Created?

First, during the 1980s and 1990s there was a shift in thought taking place in Canada regarding the method used to govern areas with high indigenous populations.  Since the Indian Act had been put in place, traditional forms of government had fallen by the wayside and had essentially disappeared from Canadian Indigenous communities.  As a result of the changing feelings toward self-government, in 1983, the Special Committee of the House of Commons on Indian Self Government was created specifically in an effort to shift power back in to the hands of Indigenous people; particularly in areas where they were the majority.  The committee came out with a report recommending that First Nations be recognized as their own form of government which came to be known as the Penner report.[3]

Canada, 1949. Library Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/politics-government/canadian-confederation/Pages/maps-1667-1999.aspx

Moving on, also happening at the time were major decisions in regard to land claims for indigenous communities.  In 1984, soon after the committee had released their report recommending increased self- governance, an interesting decision was made which replaced the Indian Act in the Cree-Naskapi area and allowed for more self-governance as well as allowing for the establishing of the Indigenous communities, there already at the time, as corporate entities.  Many other ground-breaking land claims were signed in the years following this and displayed the rapidly changing landscape around the way Indigenous communities were treated.[4]

The changing landscape towards land claims as well as self-governance by Natives eventually culminated in the historic treaty which gave the Inuit people their own territory. This territory to be given was to be known as Nunavut.  The treaty, signed in 1993, dictated that the actual date of creation of Nunavut would be 1999, which was actually how it worked out.  While Nunavut is not entirely governed by the Inuit people because some non-Inuit people live there, the population is eighty-five percent Inuit meaning the elections are decided by the Inuit in large part. This allows for their culture and traditions to receive more protection. [5]

Canada, 1999. Library Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/politics-government/canadian-confederation/Pages/maps-1667-1999.aspx

Another important point to make is that the government of Nunavut is not guided by the same principles as the rest of Canada.  The decisions of the government are based around the idea of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, (IQ) which is the value system by which the traditional Inuit way of life had been driven.  Nowadays, the Nunavut school system integrates teachings from this value system and government documents require statements about how IQ priorities will be addressed in government actions[6].

Nunavut is at its core, the result of a changing attitude about the best way to handle the Indigenous population.  It would probably never have happened if not for the changed attitudes which resulted from the 1983 commission promoting the idea of self-governance as well as the many successful land claims which had happened around the same time[7].  Despite the many changes which were happening, Indigenous people were still being taken to residential schools during much of the process of creating Nunavut and today they still face many disadvantages.  However, it can be argued that the creation of Nunavut was an essential milestone for the Native community and a reason to be optimistic about the future of the Inuit people. Thus, all of this illustrates the context within which Nunavut created within Canada. It illustrates a period leaning towards land claims and self-governance, specifically in regard to victories of such land claims and self-governance for Indigenous peoples. It helps make it clear that these victories were just the beginning in reconciling Canada’s past in regard to the Indigenous population.

Moment Itself

This moment, the founding of Nunavut, is an important moment that happened throughout the 20th century; however, gained legal status by the 1990s[8]. Nunavut, in Inuktitut, means our land, which is relevant due to it being a territory which is for the most part self governed by the Native populations living there[9]. Nunavut’s creation was caused by multiple reasons such as the increasing need for self-government within the native community[10]. This movement of self-government was partially due to the 1990s Quebecois sovereignty movement, which helped fuel the idea of an Inuit controlled territory such as Nunavut[11]. In addition, during the 1990s, there were multiple movements in Alaska and Greenland to form Native protection organizations, which influenced the native community[12]. This movement was started due to the formation of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, which among other things would map out a land claim for the Nunavut territory in 1976[13]. Nunavut was situated in the Northwest Territories and was later separated due to Nunavut Land Claims Agreement that was fed out of the self-government movement started in 1971[14].

Paul Quassa, President of the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Iqaluit, May 1993, by Hans-Ludwig Blohm, C.M. http://www.northernpublicaffairs.ca/index/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Paul-Quassa-President-of-the-Tungavik-Federation-of-Nunavut-and-Prime-Minister-Brian-Mulroney-signing.png

The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada was formed during the national conference of natives at Calgary in August 1971. This organization would fight for the rights of native Canadians in the arctic[15]. The work of negotiating land claim was done by the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut which would, from 1982 to 1993, try to negotiate with the Canadian and Northwest Territory governments to create a land claim agreement[16]. While the groups agreed upon the land claim in 1993, its implementation wasn’t enforced until April 1st, 1999, through passing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Nunavut Act[17]. The 1993 act that would lead to the creation of Nunavut was signed on May 25th, 1993 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney[18]. These actions allowed a 1,877,787 km area of land to the Inuit people, making it the largest land claim in modern history. This gave them Inuit peoples a well deserved chance to govern themselves and develop their culture mostly independent from Canada[19]. In addition, they were given money as compensation in the form of the Nunavut Trust, which was a 1.17-billion-dollar payment over 14 years[20]. This was made to compensate them for the abuse of ancestral land and was made to help support economic development in the region[21]. In addition to the Trust, the government must pay a royalty to the Nunavut population for resources extracted from the region[22]. The creation of Nunavut allowed for a native controlled government that would be in control of their own society and their own needs[23]. Through this, the native population could better help their society recover from centuries of oppression and improve the situation of their people.

Why is this a Moment That Matters?

The creation of Nunavut had multiple meaningful social, political and geographical significances for the Inuit population in Canada, as well as the rest of the country. Firstly, it is geographically significant because as stated in the Nunavut Act “all that part of Canada north of the sixtieth parallel of north latitude and east of the boundary described in Schedule I that is not within Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador”[24] were used to form Nunavut, as well as several other islands in “Hudson Bay, James Bay and Ungava Bay”. [25]As previously mentioned, this was one of the largest land claims in modern history. Although Nunavut was split from the Northwest Territories, it became the largest province or territory in Canada by area[26]. The geographical change is not only significant because it was a large change for Canada geographically, but because this significance allows the next two significances to be possible.

Next, it is socially significant because, at that time, the population living on the geographical area, now known as Nunavut, contained 85 percent of its habitants of Inuit origin[27]. Because of this, it is crucial to mention the impact that the creation of Nunavut had on the Inuit and their culture. Given that such a specific cultural majority was present in a specific region, it was important for them to have a geographical area of their own, where they could live with their traditional values and language. The establishment of that territory allowed for the official recognition of public, cultural and social symbols of Inuit tradition, which then became visible in Nunavut. Among them were the creation of a flag containing Inuit symbols like the inuksuk, the Inuktitut that became an official language beside the French and English languages[28], and the administrative and legislative practices became inspired by the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, which translates in to English by “the Inuit traditional knowledge”.[29] According to a survey on 35 people living in Nunavut which were aged between 18 and 85 years old[30], the majority considered that speaking the Inuktitut language became visibly more important in their community for getting jobs and integrating social life, especially after the creation of Nunavut, which in effect made people more aware.[31] Although the same people admit that learning English is becoming crucial for young Inuit to succeed, they mention that it is through Inuktitut and the creation of Nunavut that they have the opportunity to learn more about their origins and traditions.[32] The creation of Nunavut is really significant for the culture of the Inuit people, as it allowed them to embrace and use their culture and language in a territory where they are the majority.

Nunavut Day at Royal Bank Parking Lot, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Government of Nunavut – Department of Culture and Heritage https://www.gov.nu.ca/culture-and-heritage/events/nunavut-day

Third of all, the creation of Nunavut had also a great political impact as with its creation, the eastern part of the Northwest Territories became an autonomous political entity.[33] As it was previously mentioned, that geographical area of Canada was mainly populated by Inuit population, so giving them politicians that speak their language and share their vision made it easier for them to be heard and represented, allowing them to progress as a community.[34] The allowance of self-governing is extremely significant as it gave the Inuit people political power in their own region, as well as in Canada. Even though the political power they have is very limited, it is still very important as many Native populations around Canada and the world stride for political power, and the chance to govern themselves.

In brief, this event had a great significance for Inuit people and Canada. The geographical change that introduced Nunavut in the eastern part of the Northwest Territories gave land to a minority overall in Canada, but who was a majority on that specific region. This allowed the people in that community to evolve and live based on their traditional values, language and culture which is a crucial element of any community. This is even more important for the ones that are representing a minority as without proper governance that gives importance to certain traditions, these can easily be lost through the process of assimilation. The creation of Nunavut allowed the Inuit population to have their say in their local area through social and political means, which in the end allows them to preserve their values and history going forward as a present population in Canada.

Conclusion: Is This Truly a Moment That Matters?

In conclusion, the entrance of Nunavut into the Canadian federation as a territory was perhaps one of the most important events in Canadian history of recent memory. Taking outside influences from movements in Quebec and Greenland, the residents of Nunavut were able to obtain measures which allowed for financial compensation, a native-controlled government, as well as being able to determine their own future. The existence of a province which has both its government and its culture controlled by its original inhabitants is proof that it is possible to go forward with reconciliation, and even return to the First Nations peoples what was taken from them centuries ago. The geographical change that introduced Nunavut in the eastern part of the Northwest Territories gave land to a people who are a minority in Canada, but who are a majority in that specific region. This allows the people in that community to evolve and live based on their traditional values, language and culture which is a crucial element of any community. This moment is significantly more important for the ones that are representing a minority. Without proper governance that emphasizes the importance to certain traditions, the traditions, values and culture can easily be lost through the process of assimilation. The creation of Nunavut allowed the Inuit population to have their say in their local area through social and political means, which in the end allows them to preserve their values and history going forward as a present population in Canada.  Therefore, all things mentioned previously considered, the creation of Nunavut in Canada is truly a moment that matters because of the social, political, and geographic implications it had on Canada as a whole, as well as its Indigenous population.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] Peter Kikkert, “Nunavut.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada, August 9, 2007. Retrieved from

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/nunavut/ (accessed on March 28, 2018)

[2] Ibid.

[3]William B. Henderson, “Indigenous Self-Government in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada,  February 7, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-self-government/ (accessed on April 4, 2018)

[4] Natalia Loukacheva, “Nunavut and Canadian Arctic Sovereignty.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 43 (2009): 82-108. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed April 4, 2018).

“Nunavut – September 2003.” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, September 15, 2010. Retrieved from https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100016496/1100100016497 (accessed April 4, 2018)

[6] “Education Frame Work For Nunavut Cirriculim: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.” Government of Nunavut, 2007. Retrieved from https://www.gov.nu.ca/sites/default/files/files/Inuit%20Qaujimajatuqangit%20ENG.pdf (accessed April 4, 2018)

[7] William B. Henderson, “Indigenous Self-Government in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada, February 7, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-self-government/ (accessed on April 4, 2018)

[8] Jean Malaurie and Peter Feldstein, “Toward Inuit Self-Government in Canada.” In Hummocks: Journeys and Inquiries Among the Canadian Inuit, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 24-60 http://www.jstor.org.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/stable/j.ctt130hbxx.7.

[9] R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hdm7.10.

[10] Ibid.

[11]Jean Malaurie and Peter Feldstein, “Toward Inuit Self-Government in Canada.” In Hummocks: Journeys and Inquiries Among the Canadian Inuit, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 24-60 http://www.jstor.org.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/stable/j.ctt130hbxx.7.

[12]R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hdm7.10.

[13]James C. Saku and Andrew Bock, “Aboriginal Land Claim Agreements: The Case of Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.” Pennsylvania Geographer 55 (2017):36-50.

[14]Ibid.

[15] R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hdm7.10.

[16] James C. Saku and Andrew Bock, “Aboriginal Land Claim Agreements: The Case of Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.” Pennsylvania Geographer 55 (2017):36-50.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Jean Malaurie and Peter Feldstein, “Toward Inuit Self-Government in Canada.” In Hummocks: Journeys and Inquiries Among the Canadian Inuit, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 24-60 http://www.jstor.org.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/stable/j.ctt130hbxx.7.

[19]James C. Saku and Andrew Bock, “Aboriginal Land Claim Agreements: The Case of Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.” Pennsylvania Geographer 55 (2017):36-50.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hdm7.10.

[24] “Nunavut Act (S.C. 1993, c. 28).” Justice Laws Website. Government of Canada, March 23, 2018. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/N-28.6/page-1.html?wbdisable=true (accessed March 28, 2018)

[25] Ibid.

[26] Peter Kikkert, “Nunavut.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada, August 9, 2007. Retrieved from

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/nunavut/ (accessed on March 28, 2018)

[27] Louis-Jacques Dorais, “Discours et identité à Iqualit après l’avènement du Nunavut.” Études/Inuit/Studies 30 (2006) :165. Doi : 10.7202/017570ar

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., 175

[32] Ibid., 176-177

[33] Ibid., 165.

[34] Ibid., 178.

 

Photos (In Order of Appearance)

“Maps: 1967-1999: 1949.” Library Archives Canada. Government of Canada, March 2, 2015. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/N-28.6/page-1.html?wbdisable=true (accessed April 4, 2018)

“Maps: 1967-1999: 1999.” Library Archives Canada. Government of Canada, March 2, 2015. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/N-28.6/page-1.html?wbdisable=true (accessed April 4, 2018)

Hans-Ludwig Blohm, “Paul Quassa, President of the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Iqaluit, May 1993.” Northern Public Affairs, 2013. http://www.northernpublicaffairs.ca/index/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Paul-Quassa-President-of-the-Tungavik-Federation-of-Nunavut-and-Prime-Minister-Brian-Mulroney-signing

“Nunavut Day.” Government of Nunavut. Department of Culture and Heritage, July 9, 2017. https://www.gov.nu.ca/culture-and-heritage/events/nunavut-day

 

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