The Territory of Nunavut at 20

3 minute read

Author: Catherine Waters, Learning Lab Manager

April 1 of this year, now less than a month away, marks an important date in Canada’s history and nation-building project. On that day, the Territory of Nunavut will turn 20 years of age, and, as often with big birthdays, embarks on celebrations and also some introspection. Of course, for many Nunavummiut, the date of April 1, 1999, was less of a landmark than July 9, 1993, when the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) and Nunavut Act were adopted by the Parliament of Canada and received Royal Assent. The NLCA, now often referred to as the Nunavut Agreement, marked the huge achievement of Inuit in negotiating not only a substantial land claim, to include 18% of the land mass of Nunavut and the most promising known natural resource deposits, but also the creation of a new territory in the Eastern Arctic. July 9 is Nunavut Day in the territory and it is important to remember that the NLCA came first.

The achievement of the creation of Nunavut was recognized within Canada and all around the world as a great step forward for Indigenous self-determination and novel governance structures. Nunavut and Canada were justifiably proud of what John Amagoalik, one of the Inuit negotiators, called “changing the face of Canada.” Nation-building in a modern form.

Twenty years later, however, Nunavut’s leaders and thinkers are taking a hard look at the track record of the territory. Inuit leaders point to a rising frustration among the people about the way the Nunavut dream has taken shape. The distinction between public government, the model that Nunavut now has, and self-government, points to a significant gap between the vision that Inuit conceived of during the negotiations and the outcomes as they look today.

It is important for Inuit to believe in their government and in their own central and unique voice in what the government does and how it does it. As Ann Meekijut Hanson, a former Commissioner of Nunavut, said to a recent audience: “We are the government and the government is us.” Indeed, some of the key areas in which Inuit will measure their next 20 years are in the reflection and depth of Inuit culture and worldview in their government. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is Inuktitut for Inuit Knowledge, the knowledge, perspectives and principles that spring from a history many thousands of years old; of kinship, community and lifestyle in the Arctic. How Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is applied to government processes, systems and institutions, as well as to policy outcomes, is a matter of great concern to Inuit and to the non-Inuit who serve in the Government of Nunavut and other organizations in Nunavut.

Another area of great concern to Inuit is the survival and integrity of their language. Outside of Iqaluit, Inuit languages are still widely used. The smaller communities are of great importance to Nunavummiut as guardians of a lifestyle and culture closer to Inuit tradition. In Iqaluit, many people are learning and teaching traditional skills, such as hunting, sewing, druming and throat singing, to protect Inuit identity and tradition. However, the reality is that Inuit languages are in decline and it is a matter of great concern to Inuit to protect their languages, through the education of their children and the operation of government.

Finally, there is concern about the number of Inuit employed in government jobs. Article 23 of the NLCA set as a goal the number of Inuit in government positions to be commensurate with the portion of Inuit in the population of the territory, that is, 85%. However, the number of Inuit as a percentage of total employment in the Government of Nunavut is stalled at approximately 50% and Inuit are over-represented in administrative and lower level positions. The Government of Nunavut has made Inuit employment a central part of its human resource strategy and, with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), have dedicated funds to improving training for Inuit to be able to take on bigger and leading roles in government.

Nunavut is an extraordinary community full of aspiration and inspiration. Happy Birthday to all Nunavummiut and the homeland of the Inuit. The IOG wishes continued progress toward achieving the Nunavut dream in the next 20 years.


About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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