Update 2011 - Inuit regions of Canada

In Canada, the Inuit number 55,000 people, or 4.3% of the Aboriginal population. They live in 53 Arctic communities in four Land Claims regions: Nunatsiavut (Labrador); Nunavik (Quebec); Nunavut; and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories.

The Nunatsiavut government was created in 2006 after the Labrador Inuit Association, formerly representative of the Labrador Inuit, in 2005 signed a settlement for their land claim that covers 72,500 square kilometres. It is the only ethnic-style government to be formed among the four Inuit regions to date.

The Nunavut land claim, which covers two million square kilometres, was settled in 1993. The Nunavut government was created in April 1999. It represents all Nunavut citizens. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) represents Inuit beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.

The Nunavik land claim (James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement) was settled in 1975. The Nunavik area covers 550,000 square kilo-metres, which is one-third of the province of Quebec. The Makivik Corporation was created to administer the James Bay Agreement and represent Inuit beneficiaries. Nunavik is working to develop a regional government for the region.

The Inuvialuit land claim was signed in 1984 and covers 91,000 square kilometres of the Northwest Territories. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) represents Inuvialuit beneficiaries. They, too, continue negotiations for self-government arrangements.

2011 marked the 40th anniversary of Canada’s national Inuit organization – Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). On this occasion, ITK held a conference in Ottawa entitled “From Eskimo to Inuit in 40 Years”, which quite literally chronicled a period in which Canadian Inuit transformed the Arctic political, social, and economic map of Canada.1


Large-scale resource development

In 2011, both domestically and abroad, Canadian Inuit focused on the issue of large-scale resource development. In some Canadian Arctic regions, regulatory processes continued to hear concerns from northerners about prospective major development practices, such as offshore Arctic drilling and uranium mining. As the effects of global warming continue to open up navigable waters across the Arctic regions, this is creating a global focus on the Arctic, and a “race for resources” mentality.

Circumpolar Inuit gathered in Ottawa for the Inuit Leaders’ Summit on Resources Development in February 2011 and, as a result, the “Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resource Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat”2 was issued by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) on May 11, 2011, just before the Ministers’ Arctic Council meeting in Nuuk, Greenland.

The five-page Declaration is mindful of both the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignty (issued by ICC in 2009). It sets the context for resource development in the modern Arctic, taking into account the economic, social and political development of Inuit in Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia.

The concluding paragraph of the Declaration is noteworthy in its scope. It reads: “We, the Inuit of Inuit Nunaat, are committed to the principles of resource development in Inuit Nunaat set out in this Declaration. Inuit invite – and are entitled to expect – all those who have or seek a role in the governance, management, development, or use of the resources of Inuit Nunaat to conduct themselves within the letter and spirit of this Declaration.”


Eu import ban on seal skin

In 2011, Canadian Inuit continued their legal battle against the European Union ban on the import of sealskin products. In the fall, Inuit leaders announced they would appeal an EU Court decision rendered on September 6, 2011 which ruled against the Canadian Inuit case on the grounds of “admissibility”. National Inuit leader Mary Simon stated: “We fully expect our views on the injustice of the EU legislation to be vindicated. Inuit will not rest until the EU courts strike down this unfair and unjust legislation.”

Inuit education strategy

In June, following several years of research, consultations and political meetings, the President of ITK, Mary Simon, released a national Inuit Strategy on Education at a press conference in Canada’s Parliament. This was entitled, “First Canadians, Canadians First”. The title is in honour of ITK’s past president, Jose Kusugak, who passed away from cancer on January 18, 2011. Mary Simon said:

“Our objective is nothing less than to graduate children confident in the Inuit language and culture, and capable of contributing with pride to the emerging opportunities in Canada’s Arctic. This is an opportunity for us to turn the words of the Prime Minister’s Apology for the legacy of residential schools into real action”.

The strategy aims to empower parents, expand early childhood education, invest in curriculum development, and create a fully bilingual education system based on the Inuit language and one of Canada’s two official languages. An important goal is to establish a standardized writing system so that Inuit across Canada can more easily share teaching materials and published texts.


Inuvialuit settlement Region

Following Canada’s 2008 Apology to victims of residential school abuses, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was created to hear testimony in various forums from the victims, families and concerned citizens. Some of these forums are called “National Events”. In 2011, one was held in Inuvik. The event theme, It’s about Courage - A National Journey Home, was inspired by approximately 1,000 survivors in the North who shared their personal experiences. The event was also webcasted.

From November 2010 through September 2011, the National Energy Board (NEB) commenced hearings regarding Arctic offshore drilling. NEB held more than 40 meetings in 11 communities across the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The consultations culminated in a roundtable session in Inuvik in September 2011.

People in the North told the NEB that they understood the importance of the energy sector and were not opposed to development but that any drilling activity had to be carried out responsibly and that Northerners wanted to be involved in preparing for potential drilling in the future.

In December 2011, the NEB issued its review of the filing requirements for Canadian Arctic offshore drilling, maintaining the requirement that oil and gas companies wanting to operate in Arctic waters demonstrate the capability to contain an out-of-control well during the same drilling season. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) praised the NEB for retaining the same-season relief well requirement.

In January 2011, IRC Chair and CEO, Nellie Cournoyea signed an agreement-in-principle with Floyd Roland, then-Premier of the Northwest Territories, and John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, for the devolution of lands and resources from Canada to the Northwest Territories. Nellie Cournoyea said:

The Inuvialuit were the first in the Northwest Territories to sign a land claim agreement. We have worked hard in the implementation of that agreement to improve the economy in the region and communities to improve the life of the Inuvialuit. Today we take another step as a signatory to this agreement-in-principle on devolution to achieve our goals.

The signing of the agreement-in-principle is a key step in the devolution process and signifies the commitment of the parties to commence negotiations towards a final Devolution Agreement. The final Devolution Agreement will include the transfer of administration, control and management of land, water, minerals and other resources such as oil and gas to the Northwest Territories.3



In 2011, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) continued to make progress on its major lawsuit against the Crown in right of Canada, in the Nunavut Court of Justice, for numerous and damaging implementation breaches of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement by the Crown. This lawsuit, launched in December 2006, is of key importance not just to the Inuit of Nunavut but for all Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Furthermore, NTI continued to work closely and cooperatively with other modern treaty signatories across Canada, through the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, to persuade the Government of Canada to correct the major deficiencies in its land claims agreements implementation policies. These deficiencies have been noted over a number of years, including by the Auditor General of Canada and the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.

NTI, and regional Inuit organizations within Nunavut, also invested much time, energy and creativity in working with major natural resource development proponents in Nunavut. Nunavut is rich in mineral and other resources, and it is critical that Inuit speak in a coordinated and informed way both to evaluate proposals and, as appropriate, seek to maximize and fairly allocate Inuit benefits from those that go forward.4



A referendum in April 2011 on creating a Nunavik government was rejected by Nunavik Inuit. Six months later, a regional meeting was held to discuss the way forward. Inuit in the region plan to revise the “Self-Government” proposal for Nunavik and continue negotiating to create a Nunavik government, and ensure that Inuit are in control of their own destiny.

In response to the province of Quebec’s “Plan Nord” originally announced in 2010, the main Nunavik organizations – Makivik Corporation, the Kativik regional government, Avataq Cultural Institute, Kativik School Board, Regional Health Board and FCNQ (co-op) - responded with the “Plan Nunavik”. This plan has precise short, medium and long-term goals and addresses the key pressing issues, including the need for more social housing, reducing the high cost of living, establishing “essential services” as basic community needs, substantial improvements to health care and education services adapted to the Inuit of Nunavik, and self-government for Nunavik.

Nunavik Inuit stated clearly that one of the threats of Quebec’s “Plan Nord” was to Inuit culture and language, something Inuit would never sacrifice at the altar of large scale development.

One positive development in 2011 was an announcement from the government of Quebec that it was going to build 300 additional housing units for the Nunavik region, with 200 additional private homes under a private home ownership program.

Finally, Nunavik Inuit were grateful that the Quebec government made a formal apology regarding the slaughter of Inuit sled dogs in the 1950s and 1960s.5 On August 8, 2011 Quebec Premier Jean Charest went to Kangiqsualujjuaq to make the apology in person, and to extend financial compensation related to the issue to Makivik Corporation.6



The new legislative assembly held its first session in Hopedale in late 2011. An official opening ceremony is planned for 2012.

Subsequent to the May 2 federal election, the newly-elected Member of Parliament for Labrador, Peter Penashue, a former President of the Innu Nation, was appointed to the federal cabinet as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. He is the second Aboriginal MP in the federal cabinet, along with Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, MP for Nunavut.

In tune with the resource development theme throughout the Canadian Arctic, the Nunatsiavut region voted in December to lift a moratorium on uranium mining imposed in April 2008. It was originally decreed to provide Inuit in Nunatsiavut time to review the issue. Nunatsiavut has since established a land administration system, developed environmental protection legislation and made progress on a land-use plan for the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area.

Late in the year, Nunatsiavut Inuit were pleased with a court decision that would allow a class action suit on behalf of 4,000 Inuit beneficiaries to sue the Government of Canada for excluding Labrador Inuit from the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Both the Nunatsiavut government and national Inuit leader, Mary Simon, publicly declared their strong support for this class action suit.7



1 Developments related to ITK can be followed at www.itk.ca

2 “Inuit Nunaat” comprises the circumpolar Inuit homeland of the Inuit communities located in Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Russia.

3 Developments in this region can be followed at the following website: irc.inuvialuit.com

4 Developments in this region can be followed at the following websites: tunngavik.com and www.gov.nu.ca

5 The killing of sled dogs was part of a Canadian effort in the 1950s and1960s to force Inuit to give up their nomadic lifestyle and settle in communities.

6 Developments in this region can be followed at the following website: makivik.org

7 Developments in this region can be followed at the following website: nunatsiavut.com



Stephen Hendrie is Director of Communications at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami - Canada’s national Inuit organization based in Ottawa. He joined ITK in 2002 following ten years of work in the field of communications at Makivik Corporation in Nunavik, northern Quebec. His previous professional experience as a journalist includes working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Iqaluit (1983, 1989, 1990), Quebec City (1984-1986) and the Canadian Forces Network in West Germany from 1986-1988. He has a BA from Concordia University in Montreal (1984), and an MA in Political Science from McGill University, also in Montreal (1991).