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Change in progress: Nunavut means "our land" in Inuktitut, the language of Inuit. Canada's newest territory, where 85% of the people are Inuit, is one-fifth of the country's land area--equal to Alberta, British Columbia, and Yukon combined. It is an example of self-government by Indigenous people, where traditional lore is meeting the modern world. (Indigenous People--Nunavut).

On a frosty northern night in April 1999, Nunavut was born. For the Native activists who had been pressing for an eastern Arctic territory since the 1960s and '70s, it was a dream come true. For the 27,000 people who call Nunavut home, it was a new beginning.

Inuit, their ancestors, and earlier inhabitants have occupied parts of Nunavut for 5,000 years. Written records of Nunavut and its people exist from the time European explorers and traders began to visit in the 16th century. Some written histories of the Arctic during the 19th century comment on the contrast between the Inuit, who had long before adapted superbly to their environment, and the ill-equipped Europeans. The latter starved, froze, and sickened in the harsh conditions of the Arctic. The Inuit helped them as hunters, guides, and interpreters.

But the Inuit, a resourceful, adaptable, and cooperative people, have watched their fortunes rise and fall many times since Europeans arrived around 1500. During the next four centuries, European and American whalers hunted bowhead whales for their oil and baleen in Arctic waters, while explorers sailed the same channels in search of a Northwest Passage to the Orient.

The Inuit traded with the Europeans who brought goods such as guns, cloth, metal, tools and utensils, as well as alcohol and tobacco, disease, and new genes. Furs became a valuable source of income. But, by about 1920, exploration was pretty much over, and bowhead whales rare in Arctic waters. In the Mackenzie Delta, the Inuit had been decimated by disease.

During the 1920s and '30s, most Inuit continued to be troubled by fluctuating fur prices, epidemics, and shortages of wildlife. Plus, there was the horror of five residential schools that removed Inuit children as young as five from their families and their culture, sometimes for years.

The Second World War brought massive change to the North. The Economist describes it as "a cold-war boom, as a radar screen against Soviet bombers was built," followed by another boom "in oil exploration; then a bust when oil faded, made worse as Europeans were lobbied to discard their furs and that source of income faded too."

As much of a victory as recent events are to the Inuit, the new leaders face complex problems. The territory's widely-spread communities are plagued by many social ills, including inadequate housing, high substance abuse, and tragically high suicide rates among Inuit youth. In addition, in 1999, unemployment was 22%, the welfare rate was three times the national average, and half the adult population had not completed Grade 9. Also, Inuit are three times more likely than the national average to be in jail. And, by 2001, the government was heading into debt, forecasting a $12 million deficit at the end of 2001-02, despite receiving 90% of its budget from Ottawa.

But, one thing the Inuit are not short of is optimism. To them the very existence of Nunavut is cause for celebration because it was created with the hope of bringing government closer to the people--both physically, and in spirit. Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, from which Nunavut was governed until April 1999, is as far from Iqaluit as Vancouver is from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Now, the territory's capital is, for most residents of Nunavut, closer to home, and a policy of decentralized government--with territorial government departments headquartered in some of the larger Nunavut communities --brings the administration of day-to-day affairs still closer. For the Inuit, that means a government that reflects the circumstances of the central and eastern Arctic, which are very different economically and culturally from those in the western Arctic.

It also returns Inuit control over their own affairs.


1. The people of Nunavut call it Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, IQ for short. According to the Nunavut Social Development Council, IQ "encompasses all aspects of traditional Inuit culture including values, world view, language, social organization, knowledge, life skills, perceptions, and expectations." IQ shows up in many ways, including the justice system. European concepts of justice are based on an impersonal adversarial system; the Inuit idea of justice revolves around face-to-face reconciliation. Write an essay on other ways IQ applies to the Inuit way of life.

2. John Amagoalik of Iqaluit, is Chief Commissioner of the Nunavut Implementation Commission, which helped design Nunavut's government. He is among Nunavut's optimists. In The Nunavut Handbook, he writes: "Living under conditions of colonialism is something our children, thankfully, will not know. Our fathers [had] their independence and human fights stolen from them. Through the settlement of our land claims and the rebirth of Nunavut, our generation has won back our right to determine our political future." Discuss.


In Nunavut, more than half the households rely on hunting and fishing for food.

In the less accessible central Arctic, as late as 1900, some Inuit had not seen a qallunaaq, (the Inuit word for white people) while in Labrador, European settlers had displaced the Inuit from the coast, or mingled with them, everywhere except the Far North.

The Nunavut Handbook

Nunavut '99, The Story of

RELATED ARTICLE: Nunavut timeline.

1971--The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), the national political organization representing Inuit, is formed.

1973--The Canadian government establishes its first Comprehensive Land Claims Policy, with the idea of giving Aboriginal people tangible rights and benefits in return for settling undefined claims to land.

1976--The ITC calls for the creation of Nunavut as part of an effort to settle Inuit land claims in the Northwest Territories.

1979--The Inuit witness a milestone in their journey toward recognition when Peter Ittinuar, the first Inuk member of Parliament, stands in the House of Commons and speaks Inuktitut.

1982--The people of the Northwest Territories vote to divide the NWT and create Nunavut.

1992--The boundaries of Nunavut are established.

1993--The Nunavut Act to create Nunavut and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement are passed by Parliament.

1994--The Nunavut Implementation Commission (NIC) is established to advise the federal government on the creation of Nunavut and holds its first meeting.

1995--The NIC's plans for the design of the Nunavut government are outlined in Footprints in New Snow and 60% of voters choose Iqaluit (formerly called Frobisher Bay, after the 16th century explorer Martin Frobisher) as Nunavut's capital.

1999--The first election for the first Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
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Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CNUN
Date:May 1, 2002
Previous Article:Becoming visible: Indigenous peoples believe that to prosper they have to regain control over their lands and resources and to do that they must...
Next Article:Local knowledge: Indigenous and other traditional peoples have long associations with nature and a deep understanding of it. (Indigenous...

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