The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Caribou Habitat Management

By Bernauer, Warren | The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Caribou Habitat Management


Bernauer, Warren, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies


Introduction

In 1993, Inuit completed negotiation of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement with the Governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories, creating a new institutional framework for the governance of land and mineral resources. Drawing on the case study of caribou habitat management in the Kivalliq (formerly Keewatin) region of Nunavut, I argue that this new institutional framework has, thus far, poorly served Inuit hunters. I provide a history of conflicts over mining and mineral exploration in critical caribou habitat near Baker Lake, from 1970 to the present, with a focus on Inuit hunters' attempts to have mining and mineral exploration banned in critical caribou habitat and areas of high cultural value. This activism has continued after the land claim was settled in 1993, through the Thelon Game Sanctuary Plan development, land use plan development, consultations concerning representative Inuit organizations' uranium mining policy, and screening and reviews of proposals for mining and exploration near Baker Lake. Thus far, none of these attempts to have mining banned in critical caribou habitat have been successful.

I argue that this lack of success is due to the actions of the institutions that dominate land and mineral governance in Nunavut: the Federal Government, the Government of Nunavut, and the representative Inuit organizations, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the regional Inuit associations. All of these organizations have failed to represent Inuit hunters' interests in decisions regarding the management of caribou habitat. This is due to the fact that these organizations are all poorly structured to represent the interests of Inuit hunters. They have institutional interests and mandates which are often at odds with hunters' interests in a balanced form of development which promotes some mineral extraction while protecting the long-term viability of wildlife harvesting. The future viability of wildlife harvesting in Baker Lake may depend upon empowering the institutions which represent hunters directly - especially community Hunters and Trappers Organizations - to participate more directly in land and mineral governance in the territory.

Baker Lake, The Mixed Economy, and Balanced Development

Baker Lake is located in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, close to the terminus of the Thelon River. The community of roughly 2000, mostly Inuit residents is called Qamani'tmq ("the place where the river widens") in Inuktitut. It is the only inland community in Nunavut, which makes resident Inuit almost entirely dependent upon caribou for sub- sistence purposes. Anthropologists initially referred to the Inuit of the area as "Caribou Eskimo," due to their unique reliance upon the land mammals, in comparison to most other Inuit groups' reliance upon sea mammals. Baker Lake therefore makes an ideal case study for Inuit hunters' political action related to caribou habitat conservation vis-à-vis the mining industry.

Baker Lake Inuit hunt caribou from five herds (named after the location of their respective calving grounds): the Beverly, Qamanirjuaq, Wager Bay, Ahiak, and Lolliard herds. However, the Beverly herd (which calves north-east of Baker Lake near Beverly Lake) and the Qamanirjuaq herd (which calves south of Baker Lake near Qamanirjuaq Lake) are the caribou populations whose ranges have been the focus of most conservation efforts and political activism by Baker Lake Inuit. This is no doubt due, in large part, to the fact that these herds are a shared resource. The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herds are hunted by Dene and Metis communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the NWT, as well as the Inuit communities of Arviat, Whale Cove, Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake in Nunavut.

Many Inuit families in Baker Lake continue to rely upon what some scholars refer to as the "mixed economy".1 Households and extended families pool resources which are obtained through the subsistence harvesting of wildlife (primarily caribou and fish), simple commodity production (primarily furs and art), and wage labour (primarily through the public sector and retail/ services sector, but also, increasingly, from mineral exploration and extraction projects). …

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