On April 1st, 1999, a new territory was born. This new territory is called Nunavut, which means our land in the Inuit language. This creation is the result of the largest land claim settlement in Canada s history, and follows years of deliberate negotiations. Nunavut represents an opportunity that is completely unique: a chance to create a self-sustaining economy in a region far removed from the large population and resource that jeopardize cultures in other parts of the world. Essentially, this is Canada s first large-scale test of native self-government and represents a best-case scenario for indigenous development. Yet the renaissance of the Inuit culture is far from secure. There are many problems and challenges that await the Inuit as they embark on the process of defining their new territory. The tumultuous social changes, the politics of hunting and trapping, and the uncertainties of resource exploitation in the fragile Arctic environment are just a few of the challenges that await. The following pages will present an analysis of Nunavut s economic/social make-up, and the problems that threaten the independence it is striving for.
Facts about Nunavut
Nunavut is comprised of 2 million square kilometres, most of it rocky tundra, and includes 7 of Canada s 12 largest islands and two thirds of the country s coastline. Split from the Northwest Territories, Nunavut encompasses 20 percent of Canada s landmass, extending from the Barren Lands west of the Hudson Bay all the way to Ellesmere Island s Cape Columbia, Canada s northernmost point of land.
It has a population of 25,00: 60 percent of which are under the age of 25, and 85 percent of which are Inuit. There are 28 communities spread across this large area. Iqaluit, the capital, is the largest with a population of 4,500. Iqaluit is also home to the territory s only hospital but there are 26 health centres to serve the other communities. The transportation system is relatively non-existent; consisting of one 21 kilometre government-maintained road between Arctic Bay and Nanivisik. There are air connections between communities and daily air connections between Iqaluit and Montreal. Economic activities include mining, tourism, hunting and tapping, and arts and crafts production.
Nunavut has an abundance of natural resources. The territory s 2 million square kilometres hold a vast untapped potential for wealth and job creation. It has 2 operating lead and zinc mines and has other known deposits of copper, gold, silver, and diamonds. However, much of Nunavut s resource base is non-renewable. This does not pose a problem for the present but will invariably become an issue for future generations.
The climate presents another challenge. Because of its northern location, Nunavut does not provide as efficient a venue as southern locations. The cold weather increases the amount of time in which most operations can be up and running, this increased construction time equates to a higher cost for whoever undertakes the operation. Higher development costs mean two things for Nunavut: 1) it will have to attract large national or multi-national firms who can afford to absorb these costs and 2) it will be more dependent, in terms of the global market place, than other, more southern regions. Market prices will play the determining factor in development. Also, once operations are up and running, market prices will have to stay high and relatively stable; any sharp decreases could easily spell the end for many operations. The distance from markets and supplies and the lack of a developed transportation system are also prohibitive factors that must be considered in the development process.
In the last 20 years, scientists have detected an increasing variety of toxic contaminants in the North pesticides from agriculture, chemicals and heavy metals from industry, and even radioactive fallout from Chernobyl. They have been found in snow, ice, water, and air, and have contaminated every level of the arctic food chain from being carried north by rivers, ocean currents, and atmospheric circulation.
Imagine what the results might be when resource begins in earnest within the region. Ina an effort to offset these potential results, environmental regulations will be stringently applied. Again, this results in an increased cost passed on to the developer. It is obvious that, although Nunavut has a vast and diverse resource base, when all the factors are considered, its potential may never be fully realized.
Tourism is a viable part of the economy. The chances to experience Inuit culture and view the unspoiled beauty of the arctic are major attractions. More and more visitors from around the world tour the arctic each year. There are three new national parks to be created under the terms of the Nunavut land claim settlement. The creation of these parks combined with the territory s birth was expected to increase exposure to the world markets. However, there is one main obstacle to overcome; the price.
Matty Mcnair, who runs the North Winds with her husband Landry, sums up Nunavut s tourism development problem this way: The government can print up glossy brochures, but the reality is you can go to Paris for less money.
Because of the prohibitive costs involved, tourism in Nunavut is mainly geared towards a select few. Namely: well-off hunters and fishermen, and adventure tourists. This eliminates a very high percentage of people and, unless costs decrease, places a ceiling on just how much tourism can contribute to the economy.
Arts and Crafts
The Inuit have created art out of soapstone, whalebone, ivory, sealskin, etc. for a very long time. It is an important part of their culture and is becoming an important part of their economy as well. There are an estimated 30 percent of Inuit people who derive a portion of their income from arts and crafts. This is an area of the economy that has a great deal of potential. Museums, and public and private sector art galleries around the world desire Inuit works of art. Some of the art pieces can sell for thousands of dollars. The potential is encouraging because, as long as the Inuit practice sustainability, the art is a renewable resource. The main drawback is that there are laws that prevent the Inuit from achieving full market penetration.
Most traditional Inuit products whether craftwork like sealskin slippers or foods like mattak, a delicacy made from raw whale blubber are derived from animals. But in recent decades, growing concerns about declining wildlife populations have led governments to pass a number of laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which are preventing many of these products from reaching world markets.
The MMPA is a U.S. act and prevents the Inuit art from reaching a market of 250 million people, a great source of potential revenue. Laws like this limit Inuit artwork and prevent the arts and crafts economy from reaching its full potential.
The new regime in Nunavut involves a plan for a decentralized government with 10 departments in 11 communities. The government consists of a Legislative Assembly of 19 elected members, who choose a government leader and ministers by consensus. This format was chosen in order to keep the new regime close to the people. The role the Inuit will play in governing is a sensitive issue. Presently the majority of deputy-minister level officials are white and there is concern that it may not soon change.
Officials say a push to quickly train more promising young Inuit to fill government posts has been only partly successful. It remains to be seen if the government can meet its goal of having Inuit fill half of the jobs in Nunavut s public service at the outset. Even tougher may be achieving the aim of steadily increasing Inuit employment to 85 percent of an expected 600 government positions by 2008.
The lack of qualified Inuit personnel is only one of the problems facing the new government. There is also concern over just how severely the government has been spread out.
Critics of the scheme consider the architects of Nunavut to be optimistic to the point of naivet about hoe cumbersome and expensive it will be to operate a decentralized government across a fifth of the landmass of Canada.
The intent of having a decentralized government is certainly a noble one but, when considering the vast amount of territory to be covered and the lack of population, probably not an ideal or practical solution for Nunavut.
Only one hospital exists in the entire territory of Nunavut. The hospital is the Baffin Regional Hospital and is located in the capital city of Iqaluit. There are 26 other health centres located throughout various communities. The aspect of decentralization also plays a role in health care. The administration for the hospital is located in Pangnirtung, 300 kilometres away from Iqaluit. This results in a lack of efficiency and higher costs.
Education is a top priority in Nunavut. 60 percent of the population is 25 years or young, and close to one third of residents aged 15 or older have an education at a grade 9 level or less. Yet a requirement of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is to ensure that Nunavut s public service is eventually 85 percent Inuit. Pond Inlet, Rankin Inlet, and Iqaluit are the only communities to have high schools. Iqaluit is also home to the Nunavut Arctic College, a decentralized system with three campuses and over 24 community- learning centres. The reality is that there is a lot of work left to be done in order to raise the overall level of education. The fact that Nunavut consists of only 25,00 people spread out over 28 communities poses a challenge in implementing the service of education. It isn t easy to justify building schools for communities of 500 or 600 people. The result is that many children have to relocate in order to further their educations; a reality that further complicates the goal of higher education.
The Inuit people of Nunavut live in a dual culture. Industrial society confronts a hunting society. The hunting society has been an ancient way of life. Before the onset of industry there was no such thing as the accumulation of wealth, the family made rules, and elders were taken care of. It hasn t been until recently that the industrial society has started to creep in. The penetration of technology has made it difficult to achieve equilibrium between traditional values and modern day attitudes. The Inuit culture is currently overloaded with social problems that have arisen due to the shift in values associated with the modern world. The shift to settlement living has resulted, because of low employment opportunities, in a welfare dependency, which in turn has resulted in a loss of pride and self-respect. In the midst of this enormous cultural upheaval, The Inuit have extremely high rates of smoking, alcoholism, and suicide. Approximately 84 percent of men and 78 percent of women smoke. 25 percent of the population is classified as heavy drinkers and the suicide rate is 6 times higher than the national average. It is obvious the Inuit have paid a heavy price during their cultural shift.
The formation of this new frontier called Nunavut is obviously not without its share of problems. It is rife with social problems, has a low education level, and there are challenges to be overcome in almost every facet of its economy. However, this creation should be looked at as a positive event for the Inuit and for Canada. For the first time in our national history the stage has been set for indigenous people to take control of their own destiny. This is certain to be a long, drawn out process with a great deal of growing pains to be felt. The creation of Nunavut did not occur overnight and the evolution of Nunavut towards a self-reliant territory will surely not occur in the near future. The important idea is that there will be the opportunity to grow, and this growth will occur almost entirely on their terms.
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