The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the associated Nunavut Act mark a significant landmark in the history of aboriginal self-governance. Through reasonable demands and patient negotiation, the Inuit have accomplished what no other aboriginal group in the world has done: true self-governance with Territorial powers over education, health care and other such Provincial responsibilities.
Although not strictly self-government in the traditional sense, the creation of Nunavut ensures the Inuit can determine their own destiny through majority rule as the largest ethnic group in the region (80% of the population). With well-defined arguments for the protection of regional interests and a new independent government, the Inuit established reasonable grounds for the creation of Nunavut during the settlement of their land claim.
The Nunavut Political Accord of October 30th, 1992 laid the groundwork for the creation of Nunavut under the Nunavut Act and was a significant step in the settlement of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. The Nunavut Act called for the creation of Nunavut no later than April 1st, 1999 and guaranteed territorial powers similar to those of the Northwest Territories Act; modernized and modified where necessary to accommodate the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
In a plebiscite held November 3rd to 6th, 1992, 85% of Inuit beneficiaries voted to accept the terms of the proposed Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was signed by the duly appointed officers of the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut on May 25th, 1993 and read into law alongside the Nunavut Act on July 9th, 1993 by the Parliament of Canada.
Highlights of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement include:
• A 2,000,000km2 settlement area with 350,000km2 designated as Inuit Owned Lands including sub-surface rights to 36,000km2
• Capital transfer payments of $1.148 billion over 14 years and a $13 million Training Trust Fund for the establishment of the Government of Nunavut
• Equal representation of Inuit and government on wildlife management, resource management and environmental boards
• The right to harvest wildlife on lands and waters throughout the Nunavut Settlement Area
• A share of federal government royalties from oil, gas and mineral development on Crown lands
• The right to negotiate with industry for economic and social benefits from the development of non-renewable resources on Inuit Owned Lands
• The right of first refusal on the sporting use or commercial development of renewable resources in the Nunavut Settlement Area
• The creation of three federally funded national parks
A brief history of the Nunavut Land Claims process:
1973 - The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) begins a study of Inuit land use and occupancy to demonstrate the extent of Inuit title in the Arctic. This study forms the geographic basis for the Territory of Nunavut.
1976 - The ITC proposes the creation of a Nunavut Territory as part of a comprehensive settlement of Inuit land claims in the Northwest Territories. The Inuvialuit regions of the Beaufort Sea and Yukon North Slope areas are originally included in the Nunavut Proposal. Later in the year the Inuvialuit split from the ITC to begin separate land claims negotiations due to development pressure in the Beaufort Sea area.
The federal Electoral Boundaries Commission recommends dividing the Northwest Territories into two electoral districts: the Western Arctic and Nunatsiaq. This recommendation is adopted prior to the 1979 federal election.
1980 - ITC delegates unanimously pass a resolution calling for the creation of Nunavut at their Annual General Meeting in October.
1982 - The Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) is established to negotiate a land claims agreement with the federal government.
A plebiscite on the creation of Nunavut is held in the Northwest Territories and passes with 56% of the vote.
1990 - The TFN and representatives from the federal and territorial Governments sign a land claims agreement-in-principle in April. The agreement supports the division of the Northwest Territories and establishes a plebiscite on boundaries.
1992 - The TFN and federal negotiators come to a resolution on the substantive portions of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in January. Subject to the boundary plebiscite and completion of the Nunavut Political Accord, the agreement includes commitments to the creation of Nunavut.
In May, the boundary plebiscite passes with 54% of the vote. It is widely regarded as an affirmation of division itself.
TFN and government representatives sign the Nunavut Political Accord on October 30th; it sets the date for division no later than April 1st, 1999. This allows for an organized transition of power and time to train personnel for the new government.
A plebiscite on the proposed Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is held from November 3rd to 6th; 85% of Inuit beneficiaries vote to accept the terms of the Agreement.
1993 - On May 25th, duly appointed officers of the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut sign the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. On July 9th the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Nunavut Act are adopted by Parliament and receive Royal Assent.
1995 and 1996 - The Nunavut Implementation Commission publishes two documents: Footprints in New Snow and Footprints II. These documents form the roadmap for division and recommend certain headquarter and regional functions of government be decentralized to the three regions. Footprints II becomes the blueprint for the Government of Nunavut.
1997 - The Office of the Interim Commissioner is established to prepare for division and is responsible for ensuring the Government of Nunavut functional by April 1st, 1999.
1998 - Amendments to the Nunavut Act are adopted by Parliament and receive Royal Assent.
1999 - Nunavut with an independent government finally become a reality on April 1st.