Looking Back
The Early Years
The Road to Nunavut
What Price Nunavut?
The Next Generation
Inuit and The Land As One

Living with Change
Our Language, Our Selves
Inuit Art: The New Reality
Hunters and High Finance
The Subsistence Economy
A Public Government
The First MLAs
The World Looks North
What's In A Name?

Map of Nunavut

Inuktitut - Nunavut 99


"This is our legacy.
This is what we present to you. What will you do with it?"

By Jimi Onalik

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 today.

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.
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