For the past 19 years July 9 has eclipsed Canada Day as the most important summer holiday for Inuit living in the Eastern Arctic. From Arviat to Kugluktuk, Coral Harbour to Igloolik and beyond, Nunavut Day is a time for Inuit culture and communities and the land they inhabit.
Next year will represent a huge milestone for the territory, which will by then be celebrating the 20th anniversary of its creation.
But this year represented an equally, if not more important moment, the 25th anniversary of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
The magnitude of the agreement is hard to understate. To this day, it represents the single largest land claim settlement in Canadian history, involving more than 350,000 of the 1.9 million square kilometres that make up Nunavut.
Among other things it ensures that Inuit have the rights to self-government, to manage their own wildlife and to benefit from the extraction of mineral resources.
None of this could have been possible without the work of the territory’s founders including Kivalliqmiutaq, Tagak Curley, who was born at a hunting camp near Coral Harbour.
As the founder of Inuit Tapirisat Kanatami (previously Inuit Tapirisat of Canada), Curley helped launch an extensive study to document how modern Inuit’s ancestors lived, travelled and hunted in the Arctic.
According to Kangikhiteagumaven: A Plain Language Guide to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, “without this proof, the federal government would not begin negotiating a land claim with the Inuit.”
While it is important to celebrate these achievements, it is also important to reflect on where the territory is heading.
Indeed, as Sam Tutanuak pointed out when asked about the importance of the Nunavut Day for street talk, “we’re a quarter of the way there.”
Tutanuak went on to clarify that it would likely take another 60 years before the goals set out in the Nunavut Agreement are fully achieved.
In a recent Nunavut News North article, a reporter asked Paul Quassa, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk and newly elected premier – and first ever from the Kivalliq – Joe Savikataaq for an area where the Nunavut Agreement has faced challenges in its implementation.
The consensus is that Article 23, which guarantees Inuit representation in the workforce, remains one of the more elusive elements of the Agreement.
While Inuit make up about almost 85 per cent of the territory’s population, they hold just 51 per cent of government jobs.
Last week I had the chance to spend a couple of days with a group of Inuit women who are enrolled in cooking school.
Being invited to see them in action: cutting fish, laughing and bonding together, was an honour. It was also easy to see how a program like that could have such an impact on people looking to further their education and improve their job prospects.
I had the same feeling when I got to watch a group of proud graduates from across Nunavut hold their diplomas after completing their emerging leaders course.
With Nunavut’s population growing faster than any other territory or province, making sure Inuit can thrive will be paramount to fulfilling the vision of the Nunavut’s founders and the dreams of future generations.