n my mind's eye, I can imagine
those hectic and crazy days when the negotiations began. I like
to picture smoky community halls, hot from body heat, filled
with passionate debate and confusion children running
around as a group of young leaders work towards rallying their
community in support of new ideas. Ideas that they felt would
deal with the vast problems facing the people of Nunavut. Ideas
that would provide hope at a time when it was quickly fading.
This is how I like to picture it. I was born almost four years
after negotiations for Nunavut began, so I do not really know
if this is how it was. But it is painfully clear where we are
As clocks across Nunavut struck midnight on March 31, 1999,
a couple of things happened. One was the widespread celebration
to mark the major accomplishment of the creation of the government
of Nunavut. A quarter-century of work is about to finally bear
fruit, and we will finally have the government we have been working
towards for so long.
Another much more quiet event came in the form of a question
collectively whispered by young people in Nunavut. "What
does this all mean?"
At a time when the youth of Nunavut are hurting and cynical,
we are all wondering how this new government will act as a vehicle
for change. Will our friends and family members stop committing
suicide? Will we have jobs? Will our children have better futures?
These are crucial questions, with life-and-death answers.
If the creation of the government of Nunavut does not help us
answer "yes" to these questions, then it was not worth
pursuing. We cannot afford to waste time on a political exercise.
But on April 1, 1999, amidst the self-congratulatory speeches,
and the pomp and circumstance, there will be a hidden challenge
to a new generation of leadership. A generation that brought
us the structure and framework of a democracy will say: "This
is our legacy. This is what we present to you. What will you
do with it? What will you make it become?"
Today, as the generation that brought us the Nunavut government
approaches retirement and, too often, removal from power, there
is enormous pressure on the youth of Nunavut. We have been promised
a government staffed largely by Inuit. We have been promised
a government that will better respond to the social ills of Nunavut's
society. We have been promised a more creative and better government.
These promises, however, can only be fulfilled if young people
in Nunavut work towards fulfilling them. If there is to be a
majority of Inuit in government, it will be a majority of young
Inuit. Our government of Nunavut will be a catalyst for social
change only if young people are ready and willing to take a risk
and embrace that change. Our government will only be creative
if we foster innovation throughout our communities. Our government
will only be open if young people throw off the blanket of apathy
and demand to see inside it. Our government will only be ours
if we are constantly laying claim to it.
This is a huge burden of responsibility that many of us are
taking on grudgingly. If we are to come close to fulfilling the
ideals outlined in the creation of the government, then we will
need a huge amount of support from all people in Nunavut. We
will need to be allowed to make mistakes, allowed to be idealistic,
and most of all, allowed to be ourselves. Without this support,
we will fail.
It will be interesting to see how those of us who were playing
street hockey when the early meetings took place react in the
coming years. I have to believe that we, too, will be out there
in community halls, getting involved in the government, holding
it accountable, and bringing it closer. I have to believe that
we will be gathered in living rooms and in tents on the land,
seriously discussing the issues we face and finding new ideas
to bring back hope at a time when hope is still fading. And for
me, that hope is on the rise.
Jimi Onalik of
Iqaluit works in policy development with the government of Nunavut.