Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Nunavut: A Potential New Model for Economic Development

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Nunavut: A Potential New Model for Economic Development

Article excerpt


As economic development (ED) academics and practitioners, we are constantly searching for new and alternative models of ED that may meet the challenges of rural communities and low-income regions. Much of modern ED theory and practice in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world has focused on high technology, industrial clusters, and high levels of human capital: factors in scarce supply for many disadvantaged communities. The authors of this article both serve economically challenged regions, in the U.S. South and the Australian North, respectively. For a potentially fresh model, we turned in a less-traveled (and, for the authors, much less familiar) direction: the far north, specifically the Canadian Territory of Nunavut. Since much of the classic development literature concerns regions such as U.S. South, Africa, or Latin America, this article differs by presenting a potentially new model that is derived from a unique ED framework from the Canadian arctic that merits closer investigation.

Nunavut was created in April 1999, carved out of the Northwest Territories. The tree line forms the rough demarcation between the new territory and the remaining Northwest Territories, with nearly all of Nunavut classified as arctic climate. This relatively new territory includes nearly 20 percent of Canada's entire land area, but the population as of 2012 is estimated at just 33,697 (Government of Nunavut, 2012a), scattered across approximately 28 small communities. The most recent (2011) census count for Iqaluit--Nunavut's largest community and territorial capital--was 6,699 (Statistics Canada, 2012c), while some of the other communities number only a few hundred in population.

In many characteristics, the territory represents a classic lagging development region. Nunavut's population is Canada's youngest, with the highest birthrate of any province or territory in the country, together with the country's highest unemployment rate--the latter 14.8 percent in 2012 (Statistics Canada, 2012e). Like other lagging regions, Nunavut's population is heavily dependent on transfer payments, government services and employment, and primary-sector economic production (in particular, mining, fishing, and hunting).

However, the Nunavut model of development also represents much that is distinctive among developing regions. The region's aboriginal--Inuit--people were the driving force behind the creation of the new territory, as a vehicle for ethnic self-determination (Mercer, 2008; Henderson, 2007; Dahl, et al., 2000; Duffy 1988). "Nunavut" means "our land" in the Inuit language of Inuktitut, one of the official languages of the territory. The population of the territory is in large majority Inuit--approximately 85 percent--as is the territory's leadership. In comparison, aboriginal peoples constitute 3.7 percent of the overall Canadian population (Statistics Canada, 2011).

Inuit self-determination, as realized in Nunavut, is political, cultural, and economic in nature. The Inuit people of Canada enjoyed virtually no political representation until 1965, when the first Inuk (singular of Inuit) was appointed to the governing council of the Northwest Territories. The first Inuk was elected to the national House of Commons in 1979 (Mercer, 2008). The vote in today's Nunavut is open to all residents; since the territory's population is approximately 85 percent Inuit, however, most of the local and territorial leadership is Inuit, as well as the territory's representation in national bodies.

In comparison with other lagging regions of the developed world the Inuit have experienced a rapid rate of social transformation. Until the 1950s, when the Canadian government began aggressively promoting permanent settlements to facilitate health care, education, and other resources, the large majority of the Inuit people lived a traditional, semi-nomadic, economic subsistence lifestyle (Duffy 1988). …

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