The Road to Nunavut

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					                              The Road to Nunavut

A third Canadian territory was created on April 1st, 1999. This day marked the
first time in 50 years that Canada’s political boundaries had been redrawn. This
day was the culmination of years of hard work and perseverance of individuals
and organizations whose goal was to establish self-government for the Inuit of
the eastern Arctic. Of course, April 1st, 1999 marked only the political and official
recognition of the territory; Nunavut had existed much longer. Research and
archaeological findings have shown that people have lived in what is now
Nunavut for thousands of years. Below is a brief overview of the history of the
territory. The history section has been divided into four sections: prehistoric, pre-
European contact, post-European contact, and the political road to Nunavut.

Kitikmeot History


Around three million years ago, glaciers covered much of North America,
reducing the level of the world's oceans and exposing a land bridge between
Siberia and Alaska. A variety of animals made their way from Asia to North
America across this land bridge. Asiatic hunters, the ancestors of today's
Amerindian peoples, are believed to have crossed the land bridge. The first of
them are believed to have arrived in North America between 40,000 and 25,000
years ago.

Slowly, over thousands of years, more people moved onto the continent. As the
Ice Age drew to a close, about 12,000 years ago, the glaciers began to retreat
towards Hudson Bay, causing people to occupy more and more territory. Over
the next several thousand years, the glaciers continued to retreat, freeing all of
the Mackenzie River, Great Slave and Great Bear Lake, and the western Arctic
Coast, and the northern forests flourished as the climate warmed. By 6,000 years
ago, the tree line was further north than it is today.
About 4,500 years ago, the final major wave of migration from Siberia brought
the ancestors of the Inuit, the pre-Dorset people, to North America. Because of
the warmer conditions in the Arctic, they moved quickly and, within a century or
two, occupied the Arctic coast from Alaska to Greenland.

The Dorset culture, named after Cape Dorset where its remains were first
discovered, began about 2,700 years ago. Over the course of the next 1,500 years,
as the climate warmed again, the Dorset people settled most of the former Pre-
Dorset territory as far south as the Labrador coast and Newfoundland.

By about 1,000 years ago, a new Inuit culture, the Thule, had arisen on the shores
of the Bering Sea. These people were whale hunters, and when the whales
moved east, during yet another warming of the Arctic climate, the people
followed them. Within 200 years, the Thule had spread through the Arctic from
the Mackenzie Delta to Greenland and soon absorbed or eliminated the Dorset
people. The Thule people are the direct ancestors of the modern Inuit (which
means simply "the people" in Inuktitut). The modern Inuit include the Inuvialuit
and Copper Inuit of the western Arctic, the Netsilik and Caribou Inuit of the
central Arctic, Iglulik and Baffinland Inuit of the eastern Arctic, the Ungava Inuit
of northern Quebec, and the Labrador Inuit.

Pre-European Contact

Prior to contact with Europeans, the Inuit lived in extended families of five to six
people and in hunting groups of six to ten families. They were nomadic, moving
with the seasons and the animals they hunted. The lifestyle and the annual
pattern, however, varied somewhat from region to region depending on the
animal resources available and their seasonal distribution.
Generally, in the winter, the Inuit lived in coastal campsites hunting seals by
patiently waiting at their breathing holes in the ice. They often traveled vast
distances on the sea ice using dogteams and sleds. The domed snowhouse, or
igloo was used for shelter in the winter, but the Inuit also built homes of sod,
stone and whalebone. The people wore layers of caribou skin clothing and
sealskin footwear to protect themselves from the Arctic climate.

In the spring, families dispersed from the coastal campsites to hunt seals at the
ice edge. During the ice-free months, they often moved inland in smaller groups
to fish at lakes and to hunt caribou. In the summers, they lived in skin tents and
traveled by foot and by boat. During the spring and fall char runs, the Inuit built
stone weirs to trap the fish.

The Inuit were masters of improvisation and many of their inventions, such as
the igloo, the toggling harpoon head and the qayaq, are considered technological
masterpieces. Sleds and skin-covered boats were universally employed although
regional variations in both design and use were common. The umiak, a large,
open skin boat, was used to move camp by water and also for whale hunting.
The one-man kayak was used to hunt seal, walrus and swimming caribou. Dogs
were used to pull sleds, as pack animals in the summer, and also to locate seals
under the ice and to hold bears or musk oxen at bay. Spears, bows and clubs
were used for hunting and stone traps for catching small game and bears.

Inter-group warfare among the Inuit appears to have been infrequent. Self-
restraint was highly valued, and institutionalized relationships and various
methods of conflict resolution, helped them achieve a harmonious social life.
Ningiqtuq, or sharing. was and still is an important feature of Inuit culture and
ensured that food was available to everyone, including elders who were no
longer able to hunt for themselves.

Post-European Contact

Contact with Europeans dates back as far as the early 1770’s. In 1770 and 1771,
Samuel Hearne, with a Chipewyan guide, Matonabbe, traveled overland from
Churchill to the Coppermine River. While on this journey, Hearne’s First Nation
companions massacred a group of Inuit, their traditional enemy, at the mouth of
the Coppermine River at the site that has become known as Bloody Falls.

The Arctic Coast of the Kitikmeot region was mapped between 1819 and 1846.
Franklin (of the infamous Franklin expedition) mapped 900 kilometres east from
the Coppermine River to Coronation Gulf. Part of the British government’s
objectives of sending people to map the area was to promote scientific research,
geographic exploration, and to confirm its territorial claims. Mapping was
discontinued in 1834. Important sea expeditions were carried out in the area.
Parry sailed through Lancaster Sound to Melville Island in 1819.

Most of the explorers that passed through the Kitikmeot region were searching
for the elusive Northwest Passage. One of the most famous failed attempts to
travel the Northwest Passage was the Franklin expedition. In 1846, the
expedition got caught in the ice around King William Island. The crews
abandoned the ships after eighteen months and tried to go back south. This
attempt failed, and all 105 men died of starvation and scurvy. A number of books
have been written
on this failed journey, and the fate of Franklin and his crew has become part of
northern mythology.

The Northwest Passage was finally conquered in 1906, when Roald Amundsen, a
Norweigan, reached Nome Alaska after spending two winters on King William
Island. Gjoa Haven is named after his boat, the Gjoa.

The western parts of the Kitikmeot region were the last areas to be explored by
Europeans. Whalers and fur traders who attempted to trade with the Inuit
frequented the western part of present day Nunavut. In 1913, two priests, Jean-
Baptiste Rouviere and Guillame LeRoux were murderd by Inuit near Kugluktuk.
The crime, caused by a misunderstanding on the part of the Inuit and
insensitivity on the part of the priests, was investigated, and the two Inuit were
taken to Edmonton for trial. They were found guilty and sentenced to life in
prison at Fort Resolution, but were released in 1919. This case caused police posts
to be established in the region.

The Hudson’s Bay Company opened a post at Bernard Harbour in 1916,
Cambridge Bay in 1921, and King William Island in 1923. It also established posts
at Kugluktuk in 1927, and at Bathurst Inlet in 1934 (the post at Bathurst Inlet
closed in 1964 and became a tourist lodge).Kugaaruk is the only community in
the Kitikmeot that did not have a Hudson’s Bay post. Religious missionaries also
arrived around the same time as the Hudson’s Bay Company. An Anglican
mission was established in Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay in the 1920’s. The
federal government began its housing and school programs in communities in
the 1960’s.

The Political Road to Nunavut

The roots of Inuit political organization go back to the late 1960’s and early
1970’s. During this period, intense oil exploration in Alaska and the Northwest
Territories made the Inuit realize that they had very little control over their land.
In 1976, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, the representative Inuit organization at
that time, submitted their proposal to the government of Canada for the
settlement of their land claim and creation of Nunavut. In 1982, the Tungavik
Federation of Nunavut replaced the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, and continued
negotiations with the federal government on behalf of the Inuit. The government
of the Northwest Territories held a referendum in the same year, and 56% of
residents voted “yes” to split the NWT into two separate political entities. A
division line was finally agreed upon in 1992, and in 1993, the Nunavut Act was
passed by the Parliament.
The agreement included the creation of a new territory, born on April 1, 1999,
with the working language of its government being Inuktitut, since 85% of its
residents are Inuit. The signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement took
place in the gym of Inukshuk High School on May 23, 1993 between the Nunavut
Tunngavik Corporation (which replaced the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut)
and the federal government. The signing represented a modern treaty between
Inuit leaders and the Government of Canada. It spoke of how the Inuit and
Ottawa would be managing of the land and waters of Nunavut, while also
creating a territorial government for the Inuit in the Eastern Arctic. For the first
time, a territorial government now speaks largely on behalf of one group of
native people which is, in effect, self government for the Inuit because they form
the majority of the population. Inuit have taken on responsibility for many social,
economic, and political problems in the hope of finding better solutions now that
they are running the government.

The Nunavut Land Agreement, overseen by the Nunavut Tunngavik
Incorporated, has given Inuit more autonomy than any other native group in
Canada. Inuit now have complete ownership of 18% of the land, with some other
rights, too. Inuit have joint control with Ottawa over land-use planning, wildlife,
environmental protection and offshore resources and Inuit will keep forever the
right to hunt, fish, and trap throughout their homeland. The agreement with
Ottawa also gave them $1.148 billion, which, among other things, is being used
to develop Inuit businesses and to deal with social and unemployment problems.
The settlement was not a perfect deal for the Inuit: to get it, they signed away
forever any further claims to their land. But to many people the agreement was a
success because, with the creation of Nunavut, they felt Inuit had regained
control over their lives, language, and culture.