he last 30 years have seen incredible
changes for the Inuit of Nunavut. These changes, mostly for the
better, have been the result of pioneering work by Inuit leaders
who were determined to improve the lives of their people. This
work has demanded the dedication and sacrifice of these people
as they struggled to secure land and political rights for their
In the early 1970s, being an Inuk leader working in land claims
was sometimes a lonely feeling. Explaining to the older generation
why it was necessary to "claim" our homeland was not
an easy task. Trying to explain what a modern treaty might contain
was just as difficult.
The Inuit leadership also had to face hostile governments
and a Canadian population largely ignorant of Inuit, their homeland,
and their history. Inuit negotiators also had to break new ground
in their land claim talks. Governments did not have any policy
in many areas that Inuit felt had to be part of any final deal.
The negotiations were stalled many times as governments struggled
with things like royalties, offshore rights, self-government
institutions with real legal powers, and new political entities.
The process was grindingly slow and frustrating.
The weight of responsibility and the amount of effort it took
to make progress took its toll on Inuit leaders. Many experienced
burnout under the pressure of intense negotiations, long periods
of absence from family and community, and unfamiliar environments
in big cities. Alcohol abuse became a serious problem that contributed
to other problems, like family breakups and run-ins with the
law. It was the demand by ordinary Inuit that their leaders clean
up their acts that has resulted in a more stable leadership in
To all those who sacrificed for the benefit of future generations,
your loneliness and struggle will not go unrecognized.
John Amagoalik is chief commissioner
of the Nunavut Implementation Commission. Involved in negotiations
to secure a land claim agreement and territory for Nunavut since
1975, he served as the negotiator for the Inuit of Nunavut on
the political accord for the creation of Nunavut.