Nunavut A new government, a new vision

On April 1, 1999, Canada’s geographical and political map changed and a new jurisdiction, Nunavut, was created. Nunavut was formed from the eastern part of the Northwest Territories and was officially named Canada’s third territory.

Nunavut, “our land” in Inuktitut, is the realization of more than 20 years of negotiations and planning by the Inuit of the Eastern and Central Arctic. Under the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Inuit gained control of about 356,000 square kilometers of land (about 18% of Nunavut), of which nearly 38,000 square kilometers include title to subsurface (mineral) rights.

The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement also gave Inuit the right to self-government and self-determination. While Inuit represent 85% of the population of Nunavut, they have chosen to pursue their aspirations of self-determination through a public government system rather than through an Inuit-specific self-government arrangement. Nunavut is governed through a Consensus Government (a public government framework) that represents all residents.

The Nunavut public government structure includes an elected Legislative Assembly, consisting of a Speaker, Premier, a seven-member Cabinet and 10 Regular Members. The system also includes the Nunavut Public Service and a single-level trial court, the Nunavut Court of Justice.

Nunavut faces many challenges: high costs for goods and public services, a young workforce, high levels of unemployment, low education levels and low average annual incomes. The creation of Nunavut, however, gives residents greater decision-making power and control over how to meet these challenges.

While Nunavut has the same status and powers as the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory, it also operates in a way unique from any other jurisdiction in Canada.

For example, Nunavut incorporates Inuit values and beliefs into a contemporary system of government through Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and the working language is Inuktitut. Inuit culture is promoted through the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, which plays a key role in helping all departments develop and implement policy reflective of Inuit values.

The Department of Human Resources, together with the government’s other 10 departments, has developed the Inuit Employment Plan to achieve the long-term goal of 85% Inuit employment. A department for human resources allows the Government of Nunavut to track and monitor training initiatives and labor force participation of Inuit.

The Department of Education recognizes that learning is based on and flows from a foundation of culture, tradition, heritage and language. As such, Inuktitut is promoted throughout the education system.

The Department of Economic Development and Transportation and the Department of Environment work to promote initiatives such as mining and mineral exploration, while working to protect and preserve the environment.

Within the justice system, there are community-based policing services, healing circles and a single-level trial court system, the first of its kind in Canada. The trial court system combines the Supreme and Territorial courts.

The Nunavut Government is based on a decentralized model that has departmental offices located in 10 communities outside the capital of Iqaluit. While many departments are headquartered in Iqaluit, there are regional offices in various communities outside the capital.