era ends, another begins. Before he died in his mid-90s in 1995,
Pangnirtung's Akayuk Etuangat, above, the last of the whalemen,
witnessed a blizzard of change that has taken industrialized
countries at least 5,000 years to make. But he did not live to
see the most gratifying achievement by his fellow Inuit
the creation of the new territory of Nunavut.
[The territory] [ The leaders]
he Second World War brought massive
change to the North, as airbases were built. During the Cold
War that followed, several east-west lines of radar stations
were built for a Distant Early Warning system, and military manoeuvres
were held. In 1950, a new patrol ship, the CD Howe, was
launched, expanding the range of annual patrols, and dispensing
medical and administrative services in the eastern Arctic. Tuberculosis
patients were brought south, often for long periods; the children
forgot their language and had a hard time returning to northern
In addition to the migration of Inuit between hunting and
trapping areas, governments began to move families to places
of supposed economic opportunity, such as Churchill, Manitoba,
and the new town of Inuvik, Northwest Territories (NWT). In 1953,
the federal government also moved 17 families from Pond Inlet
and the northern Quebec community of Inukjuak to Resolute Bay
and Grise Fiord in the High Arctic. That same year, a new federal
Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources was created,
and soon northern service officers from this department were
posted to Inuit communities to administer a variety of programs.
Starvation among Inuit of the Keewatin barren lands resulted
in more relocation, the creation of a new community (Rankin Inlet),
and the opening of two mines to employ Inuit.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation initiated
Inuktitut broadcasts during the 1950s, and later assisted in
the creation of Inuit radio networks.
The 1960s rocked the world, with the Vietnam War, hippies,
satellites, transistors, the Beatles and snowmobiles. The mix
of social revolution, innovation and better communications set
the stage for change in Northern Canada, too.
A series of adult-education newsletters, edited by young Inuit,
became a forum for political development in the eastern Arctic,
and in the Mackenzie Delta, a Committee for the Original Peoples
Entitlement (COPE) was formed, first representing a variety of
ethnic groups and later, the Inuvialuit only. During the mid1960s,
a federal public housing program, complete with an orientation
phase, created instant villages using prefabricated units. This
ended the old scattered camp distribution of Inuit.
In response to a growing call for redress of native grievances,
a Commissioner of Native Claims was appointed in December 1969,
and the federal government provided funding to emerging aboriginal
associations to help them prepare their cases. Next door to Northern
Canada, a pivotal achievement was reached in 1971: the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement. The first settlement of its kind, it
gave Alaskan native peoples 180,000 square kilometres of land
and $962 million US.
In that year, too, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) was
formed to pursue land claims in the NWT. The Northern Quebec
Inuit Association was formed the following year and began negotiations
for the James Bay claim.
Bob Kadlun, in hat,
and Donat Milortuk
Okalik, David Aglukark and Allen Maghagak pause during negotiations.
Pressing for a Nunavut government was essential, says former
chief negotiator Maghagak, "to make sure that our claims
settlements covered everything. Past land claims agreements dealt
only with real estate and cash"
Thomas Suluk. Until
now, Nunavut has garnered little attention within Canada. Globally,
though, it's a different story. "I remember I had to go
to Moscow the next day," recalls Jack Stagg, after the federal
government guaranteed a territory in the land claims agreement
in December 1991. "I turned on CNN and there it was. Within
basically 24 hours of that decision, it was a world event"
Aboriginal claims and self-government gained crucial headway
in 1973 with three court decisions supporting aboriginal title,
a right that stems from the long-term use and occupation of lands
by Aboriginal Peoples prior to European colonization. ITC began
talks with government officials about Inuit hunting rights, and
received federal assistance for a study of land use and occupancy
to support the claims of Inuit throughout the NWT. Meanwhile,
the Inuit of Quebec joined the Cree in negotiation concerning
the James Bay hydroelectric project, and achieved a final agreement
in November 1975.
Early in 1976, ITC presented its Nunavut claim to the federal
government, including a proposal for a new territory. It was
a strategic move, says founding ITC president Tagak Curley, because
the whole concept of settling land claims was new and "as
a single issue, it was very rough going. We felt at that time
that it was important that we get a little broader base to pursue
the whole two issues: aboriginal Inuit settlement and the outstanding
land claims, and political development."
The land claim was accepted for negotiation, but not the idea
of dividing the existing Northwest Territories.
"The Liberal government, back in the very early '80s,
absolutely refused to include political change for the creation
of Nunavut," says a former chief negotiator for the Inuit,
Bob Kadlun. "But we kept chipping away at it."
After several years of struggle, the concept of Nunavut was
accepted by the federal and NWT governments, but was to be negotiated
in a separate, process parallel with the land claim.
Over the next 16 years the two processes went ahead, in spite
of international, national, organizational and personal crises.
The same group of Inuit leaders and their consultants dealt with
it all. Although it is impossible to name everyone, some of the
key players included Curley, Kadlun, David Aglukark, Allen Maghagak,
Jack Kupeuna, John Amagoalik, James Eetoolook, Solomon Kugak,
Eric Tagoona, Donat Milortuk, Thomas Suluk, Louis Tapardjuk,
Mark Evaloarjuk, Paul Quassa, Paul Okalik, Simon Taipana, Louis
Pilakapsi, Meeka Kilabuk, Ollie Ittinuar, John Merritt, Randy
Ames, Bruce Gillies, Terry Fenge, and Mary Crnkovich. The federal
team was headed first by John Naismith, then Keith Crowe, in
the early years, followed by Bob Mitchell and Tom Molloy. Angus
MacKay, and then Ross MacKinnon took the helm of the NWT government's
largest claim settlement in Canada's history
Some members of ITC disagreed with the 1976 Nunavut proposal
on the grounds that it was written by consultants and did not
reflect the goals and feelings of the Inuit. A new document was
prepared and endorsed by a majority vote of an ITC assembly.
This one listed 11 principles for self-government, and retained
the concept of a new territory.
Negotiation on the Nunavut claim began with fruitless wrangling
over the territory issue. Talks were alternately threatened and
stimulated by intense exploration and development of oil, gas
and mining in the Northwest Territories. At the same time, Canada's
First Ministers were staging discussions on the national Constitution.
The small group of Inuit and consultants who had to attend constitutional
meetings, court sessions and public hearings relevant to their
claim acquitted themselves well.
The Inuit tried hard to get a freeze on industrial development
during negotiation, without much success. Other controversial
issues loomed as well, such as the powers of a wildlife management
board, Inuit rights to the offshore, and the boundary between
Dene and Inuit claims, a point still contested today by Manitoba
Dene in an ongoing Federal Court case.
In balance, there were events that aided Inuit, too. The Baker
Lake court case was decided by the Federal Court in 1979, recognizing
an aboriginal right to occupy and harvest land. When American
ships sailed without permission through Canadian waters in 1970
(the Manhattan) and 1985 (the Polar Sea), their
intrusions highlighted the crucial role of Inuit in defining
Canadian sovereignty. Another blessing was Section 35 of the
newly repatriated Constitution Act, 1982, which confirmed
the status of claim settlements.
Over the years, federal and territorial governments changed,
and so did policies and procedures. The organization of the Inuit
shifted several times. In 1982, the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut
(TFN) was created to pursue negotiations on behalf of Inuit of
Nunavut. Although emotions inevitably ran high at times, there
was mutual respect and humor among the three negotiating teams
at the table, with an occasional arctic baseball game, and practical
was reached in 1990. The next two years were spent in hammering
out final details, including the selection of Inuit lands by
negotiators who visited each community.
A final agreement was reached in September 1992, and ratified
by Inuit beneficiaries in a plebiscite held Nov. 3-5, 1992. For
some voters, the choice was made difficult because voting for
the land claim agreement meant they would have to exchange aboriginal
rights and title to all land and water in the Nunavut Settlement
Area, save for the 355,842 square kilometres of Inuit-owned land.
In the end, 84.7 per cent of voters still endorsed the agreement.
"It was the Inuit vote that made the deal. It wasn't
all the other symbolic acts," says senior federal negotiator
Barry Dewar, who was at the Discovery Lodge Hotel in Iqaluit
when the ratification committee announced the results. Surrounded
by members of the Inuit negotiating team Paul Quassa,
James Eetoolook, Jack Kupeuna, Bob Kadlun it was a uniquely
"The mixture of joy, relief, validation all encapsulated
in faces in one minute."
On May 25, 1993, the final agreement was signed in Iqaluit.
It was the largest claims settlement in Canada in terms of financial
compensation and land: $1.1 billion to be paid out between 1993
and 2007, and 1.9 million square kilometres of land and water,
including mineral rights to 35,257 square kilometres within the
Inuit-owned land portion.
a Nunavut territory
Before division in 1999, the NWT stretched across one-third
of Canada's land mass and comprised two main regions the
partly forested Mackenzie Valley in the west, with an ethnically
mixed population of Dene, Métis, Inuit and non-aboriginal
people; and the almost treeless east, where 85 per cent of residents
Gold was discovered in the west, then petroleum. Even 40 years
ago, some residents were advocating division of the NWT so as
to let the west progress. In 1963, the Diefenbaker federal government
almost passed legislation for division, but the matter died after
an electoral defeat. In 1966, the Carrothers Commission, a federal
commission that had been formed to study the question, recommended
against division. It felt the split would have unfairly manoeuvred
"the indigenous peoples of the North out of participation
The Council of the NWT, originally a small group of federal
officials based in Ottawa, began to acquire Indian, Métis
and Inuit members, including Abe Okpik and Simeonie Michael in
the mid-1960s. In 1967, the office of the Commissioner of the
NWT, with the Council, moved to Yellowknife, and by 1975, the
Council was a fully elected legislative assembly. In 1980, Prime
Minister Pierre Trudeau's special representative, C.M. Drury,
proposed a special committee of the assembly to study the matter
of dividing the NWT. The resulting Unity Committee recommended
division, subject to a plebiscite involving the inhabitants.
In April 1982, a territory-wide plebiscite on division yielded
a resounding "yes"; on Nov. 26 of the same year, the
Canadian government announced its assent to the creation of Nunavut,
provided a plebiscite was held and other conditions met. Shortly
after, the new eastern federal riding of Nunatsiaq was created,
soon represented by Canada's first Inuk MP, Peter Ittinuar.
The government of the NWT formed a Constitutional Alliance,
and two study groups emerged: a Western Constitutional Forum
and a Nunavut Constitutional Forum. Several years were spent
on studies, in light of federal constitutional matters and northern
land claims. In 1984, the Inuvialuit of the Mackenzie Delta,
who had been pursuing their own claim, signed an agreement with
the Inuit of the east concerning the relationship between them,
and the boundary of their respective land claim areas. In 1987,
the two forums signed an agreement on the boundary between Nunavut
and a western territory (until a decision on a new name is made,
the latter still goes by the name "Northwest Territories").
In a quiet moment devoid of fanfare, in an office tower high
above a plush downtown Ottawa hotel, the Nunavut political accord
that would lead to Canada's newest territory was initialled by
John Amagoalik of TFN, the chief negotiator for Inuit; Jack Stagg,
the federal chief negotiator; and Liz Snider, the NWT chief negotiator.
The plebiscite would determine whether residents of the NWT agreed.
In a May 1992 plebiscite, a majority of NWT residents endorsed
a divisional boundary. The accord was signed on Oct. 30, 1992
by ministers of the federal and territorial governments and the
president of TFN. Parliament subsequently gave its assent to
the Nunavut Act, calling for the creation of Nunavut by
April 1, 1999.
found the leaders to make things happen
During the past century, Inuit from Chukotka to Greenland
have undergone change that took the industrial peoples of the
world at least 5,000 years to make. This blizzard of change has
taken a heavy toll on Inuit, individually and collectively, but
some of the qualities that sustained the old hunting culture
have enabled Inuit to adapt remarkably well to an invasive, unstable
Canadian Inuit have united within an Inuit Circumpolar Conference,
in ITC, and the women's organization, Pauktuutit. There are regional
and local organizations of many kinds, including co-operatives
and governments. Under this canopy of unity and identity, the
Inuit of Canada have negotiated four major land claim treaties.
If the new territory is included, the Nunavut agreement is the
most extensive of its kind in the world.
Those Inuit who repudiated the original 1976 claim submission
envisaged a revised claim that embodied the simplicity, humanity
and common sense of traditional Inuit society. Given the vast
difference between the two bargaining cultures, that goal was
inevitably lost. Both the claim agreement and the new territory
create bureaucracy, complex financing, and legalities.
The Inuit way did succeed, however, during the long negotiation
period, both at the table and away. The Inuit negotiators maintained
an atmosphere of respect and courtesy, preferring pragmatism
and reason to posturing and rhetoric. In this climate, bargaining
led to joint planning, particularly in the field of environmental
Although there were numerous reorganizations within the Inuit
camp, a core group of leaders and dedicated consultants kept
continuity of style and purpose throughout the years of negotiation.
The government side, both federal and territorial, responded
in kind to the Inuit approach.
Most people are aware of the problems that Nunavut faces
among them sparse resources, distant markets, climate, and an
ill-prepared population, all in a volatile global setting.
But to the pessimists, we can pose the question, "How
many people, in 1950, would have believed that half a century
later, Canadian Inuit would own and direct several multi-million-dollar
corporations, in addition to being the majority participants
in local, regional and territorial government?" No one could
have foreseen the full spectrum of change, but Inuit knew the
need to survive and to regain control of their lives and lands.
They found leaders to make it happen. If the other parties fulfil
their obligations, and perhaps a little more, the Inuit will
make Nunavut work.
Keith Crowe has extensive experience
in Inuit affairs, beginning as a northern service officer in
1959. He was the chief negotiator for the Inuit of Quebec (James
Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement) 1974/75, and senior federal
negotiator during the first decade of the Nunavut claim. Marion
Soublière and Greg Coleman, both from Ottawa, are the
co-editors of Nunavut '99.