For the first time in 50 years, Canada has redrawn its map.
The vast unwieldy Northwest Territories has been divided in two
create a new territory, Nunavut.
"We have regained control of our destiny and will now determine
our own path," Paul Okalik, the premier of the newly launched
territory, said at Thursday's inauguration festivities in the
capital, Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay).
The new subdivision, whose name means simply "our land" in the
language of the Inuit (whose people called Inuk in the singular), is
still huge. Comprising 20 percent of the land mass of Canada,
Nunavut is as big as Western Europe, albeit with a population more
like that of a commuter suburb: about 27,000, 85 percent of them
To a world vexed by the issues of breakaway republics and
"autonomous provinces," the Inuit of the eastern Arctic and the
government of Canada have shown how the circle can be squared. They
have shown how meaningful self-determination for a culturally
distinct group can be provided for without coming at the expense of
the rights of minority groups.
Nunavut represents the largest native land-claim settlement in
Canadian history: a real estate deal, in effect, between the
inhabitants and the European settlers.
But it also represents the establishment of a new political
entity, a new "public government," as the phrase goes. With Inuit
constituting the overwhelming majority of the population, the new
territory will have, de facto, a "native government" - but one in
which nonnatives participate fully. Of the 19 members of the new
legislative assembly, for instance, four are non-Inuit.
By negotiating both the real estate and political deals
simultaneously but separately, Ottawa was able to avoid creating an
ethnic state, says Dennis Patterson, a former premier of the
Northwest Territories. And by setting up Nunavut as a territory,
constitutionally on par with the two territories (the Yukon and
remaining Northwest Territories), the creation of a fourth level of
government was avoided."There were lots of win-wins, if you like."
For one, "It will provide a stable investment climate," says Mr.
Patterson. Mr. Okalik, a slender young man with a Sergeant Pepper
mustache, says, "We in Canada have demonstrated to the world ...
that this can be done without civil disobedience or litigation."
A long process
What it did require was long, long years of patient negotiation.
Okalik was ultimately the lead Inuk negotiator in the process that
resulted in the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement - but the process
had begun before he was born. …