Nunavut: The dream that just wouldn’t go away

Though Feb. 15, 1999 was a great day in the history of Nunavut, Allen Maghagak reminds us that that there have many other great days in the past.


Special to Nunatsiaq News

CAMBRIDGE BAY — This has been a long struggle arising from a dream, a dream that just couldn’t go away.

As soon as the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that native people of Canada had aboriginal rights in 1973, the Inuit of Canada began to research, develop and negotiate their interpretation of that right in the context of land claims.

The Inuit of NWT started the first round of negotiations in 1974 and had the first agreement-in-principle in 1978, which, unfortunately or, maybe fortunately, was defeated in the ratification vote because of its complexity and too legalistic language. Shortly after that, the Inuvialuit of the Beaufort Area decided to negotiate on their own because of the pressing oil and gas exploration and development in their own backyard.

The Inuit of the Kitikmeot, Kivalliq and Qikiqtani Regions met with the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and decided to begin their research and develop their own negotiating position in late 1979 and began the second stage of talks with the federal government in 1980.

Our vision and understanding at the time was that we would not be able to get all the land under our ownership, so we therefore concentrated on a strong management component in all areas that affected us.

You can see from the development of rights to harvest wildlife and the need for Inuit to drive the boards, development of harvesting levels, conservation of species for future use, and most of all, a comprehensive land use planning process to protect the environment that has the power to dictate whether mineral development can take place or not.

On the other hand, the lands and resources section of the agreement spells out the terms and conditions that developers can use if they want to do business in Nunavut. And for Inuit to direct their own organizations and business arms to be involved on an equal footing with the industrial sector.

No land claims without Nunavut

It has been a long-held position that the Inuit would not sign any land claims agreement with governments without clarifying our political future. Just as clearly as the land claims process spelled out the Inuit position on lands and resources ownership and management jurisdiction under our control, Nunavut was always in the forefront of the Inuit positions, dating back to the 1979 position paper entitled “Political Development in Nunavut,” which was hotly debated by the Inuit leadership at the Baker Lake annual assembly of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada.

Today, as we begin the final countdown to the long-held dream of Nunavut, please do not forget too, that other dates should not be forgotten: the 1982 plebiscite to divide the NWT, and the 1992 plebiscite on the boundary that was negotiated between the Inuit and the Dene, including many overlap negotiations in between with other aboriginal groups.

The blueprint is in place: the groundwork, the many hours of negotiating the Nunavut land claims agreement and the political accord that is now recognized as the cornerstone of the creation of a new territory of Nunavut .

Now it is up to today’s leadership to put in place a new government that will compliment what has been achieved in the aboriginal struggle in the land claims process. A government that will be made for the people, by the people and of the people of Nunavut that will have an old twist for some of us, but a new concept to some who have not taken the time to understand the Inuit language, culture and heritage.

In closing, there are many people to thank and remember who contributed to the creation of Nunavut, but that will also be another page in history in itself, so for now, let us celebrate and cherish the dream that just couldn’t go away.


Alan Maghagak, of Cambridge Bay, is a former chief negotiator with the Tungavik Federation Nunavut, the organization that successfully negotiated the Nunavut land claim agreement.

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