Yesterday’s News: Mulroney comes to Iqaluit to sign Nunavut Agreement
A weekly look back at 50 years of front pages at Nunatsiaq News
Tungasugitti Nunavummi! Welcome Nunavut!
That’s how Nunatsiaq News reported the official signing of the Nunavut Agreement on land claims, in a headline from May 28, 1993. It was an important step toward territory status for Nunavut, and a big day in Iqaluit.
Brian Mulroney, who was prime minister at the time, even managed to please the crowd of about 700 spectators by speaking a few words in Inuktitut: “Quviasuktunga tikigama nunavumut,” which translates to “I’m happy that I’ve arrived in Nunavut.”
Nunatsiaq News is looking back through some old front pages as the paper celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, after starting out in 1973 as a community newsletter called Inukshuk.
Jim Bell, the revered long-time reporter and editor for Nunatsiaq News, described the May 25, 1993, event at Inuksuk High School this way:
“Five men and one woman sat down together in Iqaluit one day this week to write their names on a piece of paper.
“And when they had finished, the people of Nunavut had all but joined the Canadian family.”
The largest Indigenous land claim settlement in Canadian history, it gave Inuit of the central and eastern parts of the Northwest Territories their own territory.
In addition to Mulroney, others who signed the agreement were Paul Quassa and James Eetoolook from Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut (now known as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.), Nellie Cournoyea and Titus Allooloo representing the government of the Northwest Territories, and then-federal northern affairs minister Tom Siddon.
As the front page notes, Iqaluit elder Leah Atagoyuk lit the qulliq to open the ceremony.
Later in 1993, both the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Nunavut Act were enacted by the House of Commons.
As a side note, 22 years later, in 2019, NTI was able to acquire federal cabinet documents from 1990 that it alleged showed Mulroney’s government blocked the use of Inuktitut in the territory’s government services.
NTI pointed to a paragraph in the cabinet document that said the final land claims agreement must not “provide general linguistic guarantees for use of Inuktitut in government and the legal and education system in the claims area.”
In a news release at the time, NTI said “Canada’s objective was successful: schooling, courts, corrections and policing all operate in English across Nunavut.”
The signing of the Nunavut Agreement was a bit of a last hurrah for Mulroney. Exactly one month later, on June 25, 1993, he resigned as prime minister after close to nine years in office.