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

 "When Inuit are determined to get something, they go out and get it."
—Bob Kadlun, a chief negotiator for Inuit on the land claim

A land claim settlement was just half of the Inuit plan for self-determination — full control would only come through a hard-won territory and government

By Keith Crowe, with files from Marion Soublière and Greg Coleman

  One 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 claim] [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 life.

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 mid—1960s, 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


  Paul 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 negotiating team.

Inuit negotiators Jack Kupeuna (foreground) and, behind him, Sam Omik, shake hands with well-wishers after the public signing ceremony of the Nunavut accord in Iqaluit, October 1992

David Alagalak

Jack Kupeuna
When David Alagalak, in hat, and George Qulaut envision the days to come in this first administration of the new government of Nunavut, it is in the knowledge that, for Inuit, the footsteps still to be taken will be in a direction of their own choosing

topThe 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 joking.

An agreement-in-principle 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 emotional moment.

"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.

topTowards 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 are Inuit.

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 in self-government."

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.

topInuit 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 modern world.

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 management.

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.

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