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A good deed for the Inuit.

CANADA IS DIVIDED into ten provinces and two territories--the Northwest Territories and Yukon--whose land is largely owned by the federal government. The Northwest Territories is by far Canada's largest political subunit, stretching across 77 degrees of longitude, one-third more than the continental United States, and jutting up into the Arctic Ocean nearly as far as Greenland's northernmost tip.

Three aboriginal groups--the Inuit, who mostly inhabit the central and eastern region's Artic coastlines, and the forest-dwelling Dene Indians and Metis of the west--occupy a majority of the territories. But because the Inuit make up less than three percent of the total aboriginal population, their cultural voice and legal land claims have often been muted.

Steps are now underway to correct this situation with the creation of a new Inuit territory to be called Nunavut, the Inuktitut word meaning "our land," subdivided from the eastern half of the Northwest Territories. A landmark agreement with Ottawa grants the Inuit full title to some 135,000 square miles as well as oil and mineral royalties to other territorial lands, thus making them the largest landowners in North America.

Nunavut promises to give the Inuit the opportunity to express their political and economic interests on the same footing as the people of Canada's other provinces. More importantly perhaps, it will make them the hemisphere's first territorially enfranchised aboriginal group. Restricted reserves for single tribes and national provinces with a majority of various native peoples exist elsewhere, but Nunavut specifically grants the Inuit equal national rights on a geographical basis.

Various plebiscites and hearings held since 1982 have confirmed the desire for a new territory holding an Inuit majority, and a vote last November approved the final agreement calling for the establishment of Nunavut before 1999. Its western border, approved in an earlier referendum by 87 percent of the eastern Inuit, will run in a zig-zag course north from the Manitoba-Saskatchewan boundary to create a territory covering one-fifth of the Canadian land mass.

Rosemarie Kuptana, president of the Inuit Tapirisat (Brotherhood) of Canada which helped negotiate the agreement, said the Inuit's overwhelming support for Nunavut shows that they "speak with one voice" on the matter. Stephen Kakfwi, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in the Northwest Territories, said the agreement also proves that "Canadians have the potential and the capacity to support very strong change in favor of aboriginal people."

But simply the physical challenges, not to mention the financial and manpower needs, confronting the new territory are enough to give pause to the most dedicated northsman. How does one go about knitting together a land of 770,000 square miles without a single road to link its fifty communities scattered across five time zones, all the while serving the needs of a population almost half of which is under 16 years of age?

And wherever Nunavut's new capital is finally located, whether in Resolute, Inqaluit, Rankin Inlet or another community not yet determined, it is certain to seem closer to Inuit concerns than the Northwest Territories current capital of Yellowknife--"a million miles away," according to more than one native leader. Such is the power of having one's homeland called in one's native language.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Organization of American States
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Americas !Ojo!; Canadian aboriginal group
Author:Werner, Lou
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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