A Good Deed for the Inuit

Article excerpt

CANADA IS DIVIDED into ten provinces and two territories--the Northwest Territories and Yukon--whose land is largely owned by the federal government. The Northwest Territories is by far Canada's largest political subunit, stretching across 77 degrees of longitude, one-third more than the continental United States, and jutting up into the Arctic Ocean nearly as far as Greenland's northernmost tip.

Three aboriginal groups--the Inuit, who mostly inhabit the central and eastern region's Artic coastlines, and the forest-dwelling Dene Indians and Metis of the west--occupy a majority of the territories. But because the Inuit make up less than three percent of the total aboriginal population, their cultural voice and legal land claims have often been muted.

Steps are now underway to correct this situation with the creation of a new Inuit territory to be called Nunavut, the Inuktitut word meaning "our land," subdivided from the eastern half of the Northwest Territories. A landmark agreement with Ottawa grants the Inuit full title to some 135,000 square miles as well as oil and mineral royalties to other territorial lands, thus making them the largest landowners in North America.

Nunavut promises to give the Inuit the opportunity to express their political and economic interests on the same footing as the people of Canada's other provinces. More importantly perhaps, it will make them the hemisphere's first territorially enfranchised aboriginal group. Restricted reserves for single tribes and national provinces with a majority of various native peoples exist elsewhere, but Nunavut specifically grants the Inuit equal national rights on a geographical basis.

Various plebiscites and hearings held since 1982 have confirmed the desire for a new territory holding an Inuit majority, and a vote last November approved the final agreement calling for the establishment of Nunavut before 1999. …