This section presents the life stories of Inuit
leaders who played an essential role in the long political process that led to
the creation of Nunavut.
This defining moment of Canadian history is here told by the very actors who
invested their lives in making Nunavut
come to life.
In the Inuit Tapirisat Canada
document, Proposed Agreement in Principle
for Northwest Territories Land Claims, the creation of Nunavut was set as a prime negotiating
principle. The protection of Inuit language and culture was also set as a high
priority. The document listed principles over which the parties should reach
agreement. When John Amagoalik introduced this document to the new DIAND
Minister, Hugh Faulkner, in December 1977 in Iqaluit, John said, "The 1976
proposal was a lawyer's agreement; this one is from the people."
At its Annual General Meeting in Igloolik in September
1979, the Inuit Land Claims Commission, chaired by John Amagoalik, presented a
discussion paper called Political
Development in Nunavut that explained in more detail the position of the
Inuit negotiating team.
That same year, Peter Ittinuar was elected to
Parliament for the riding of Nunatsiaq as a New Democratic Party member. He was
the first native Canadian ever elected to Parliament with the exception of
Louis Riel who was elected in 1874, while still in hiding in the United States.
With Ittinuar, Inuit gained another important national stage where they could
discuss publicly their dream of a new territory.
In April 1982, supported by a majority of aboriginal
and Inuit MLAs at the Yellowknife Legislative Assembly, a plebiscite was held
in the Northwest Territories to decide on the question of dividing the
Northwest Territories. A majority, 53% of the voters, supported division.
In November 26, 1982, the Minister of Indian Affairs
and Northern Development, John Munro, announced in the House of Commons that
the federal government supported in principle the division of the Northwest Territories and the creation of Nunavut. On that same
day Peter Ittinuar crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the
These defining steps opened the way to the creation of
new Canadian territory, on April 1st, 1999.
When we first presented our Nunavut proposal to the Government of Canada, they indicated that they did not want to deal with political development at the land claims table. They very much wanted to negotiate land claims and to leave political development on ‘another track’. Those were their words. The Inuit wanted to keep the two things together. We made it very clear that we could not sign any agreement that did not include the commitment to create Nunavut. At that point we agreed to disagree. But we agreed to start negotiating the details of the land claims agreement while we were pursuing Nunavut through the political arena. We made it clear that when the land claims agreement was ready to be signed, the creation of Nunavut would have to be brought in, if it was ready to be part of the land claims agreement. In the twenty years that it took to negotiate the land claims settlement, the two went along parallel lines. We were negotiating the claims here, and we were pursuing Nunavut through other means.
(Changing the Face of Canada, Chapter 8).