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Welcome to Nunavut!

by Murray Lundberg

Dateline: March 31, 1999

      On April 1, 1999, one of the most significant events in Northern history will be celebrated in Inuit communities throughout the eastern Arctic of Canada, when the territory of Nunavut officially takes its place in the political scene. (April 1 update: the new flag and coat of arms have been unveiled).

      The culmination of generations of work, this event is being scrutinized by politicians, economists, natural resource managers, and indigenous people around the world. Will it become a model for other jurisdictions to follow, or will it point out the error of "cultural politics" as compared to economics? While support for Nunavut is virtually unanimous around the world, only time will tell whether it will be a practical solution to long-standing grievances.

      Nunavut was created by the Nunavut Act, which was assented to on the 10th of June, 1993. One of the features of Nunavut government that incorporates Inuit cultural values is the Nunavut Court of Justice, which has only one level, so judges hear criminal, family and civil cases.

      There is a massive amount of information about the development on Nunavut on the Internet already. Unfortunately, much of it is full of mistakes. This feature is meant to guide you to the quality sites (most of the sites have disappeared over the years, so the links have been removed).

Nunavut Facts

  • Size: about 1,994,000 square kilometers (770,000 square miles, or 1/5th of Canada) - about 350,000 square miles are on the mainland, the rest is islands (map)
  • Population (human): 27,000 - 23,000 Inuit, 4,000 non-Inuit
  • Population (Caribou): 750,000
  • Government is by far the largest employer
  • Outside the communities, there is only 1 government-maintained road, running 21 kilometers from Arctic Bay to Nanisivik. Most transportation is by air or (in the summer) sea.

Nunavut Communities

  • the capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit (pronounced "ee-kal-oo-eat"). Formerly called Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit was the site of a large US Air Force base during World War II, and when the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line was built starting in 1955, the community became the regional service center.
  • other communities
Inuit means "the people" in Inuktitut. Eskimo, a Cree Indian word meaning "eaters of raw meat," was meant as an insult, and is no longer used in Canada.

      One of the challenges facing the new government is the need to function in 3 languages - English and French (Canada's official languages), and Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit. Inuktitut was traditionally an oral language, which is now written using characters called syllabics. An Inuktitut computer font is available for free download.

      Language needs to be descriptive for local conditions, and Inuktitut has 41 words for different types of snow and ice. The English in use in the North has some odd terms too, and a glossary is handy.

      Interest in the Inuit language is growing rapidly. Several Inuit authors are making their mark in the outside world, and you can listen to Iqaluit Live at the CBC North site.

      The effects of the outside world take some interesting paths - there is even an Inuk super hero, Super Shamou.

      Nunavut's economy does not have a very solid foundation at present, and there are hopes for a major growth in tourism and mining in the future. To protect many areas from exploitation, many parks have been created in the past few years. Guiding trophy hunters provides employment for many people, and it will be interesting to see how the new wildlife management board deals with the industry.

      If you've read this far, a Nunavut Quiz should be easy.

Happy Nunavut Day!