Home > The Creation of Nunavut > Changing the Face of Canada > The Bumpy Road to the Recognition of Aboriginal

The Bumpy Road to the Recognition of Aboriginal

John Amagoalik

We were very much interested in establishing political institutions for our people. We were already talking about self-government then. The Government of Canada did not really have any land claims policies at the time. This was very new to them, too. They were also in the process of trying to create a federal policy on land claims, and they were having difficulties because they never had to deal with issues like off-shore rights for aboriginal peoples, royalties from economic development, land claims bodies that had real legal powers, and those sorts of things. They never had to deal with that before. So, they were also sort of in the dark and groping around for policy.
In Chapter Five, John tells the story of the first two proposed land claims settlements in the 1970s. He brings up Canada’s policy of assimilation and the famous White Paper of 1969. He talks about the heavy program of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) at the time and of the issues he looked after: health and housing, the laws on game and the government’s legislation and regulations. He explains the role of the organization.

When negotiations started, the Inuit negotiators had only one reference—the Alaska Native Claims Settlement of 1971—and the Government had no policy on land claims. Furthermore, it did not have a clear notion of the existence of ancestral rights. John raises the importance of legal rulings in the Government’s willingness to enter into dialogues. He talks about his travels to explain native claims to both Canadians in the south and the Inuit themselves, in particular the qallunaaq concept of land ownership. He speaks about the disappearance of ancestral rights, the main issue of the day, and of the Government’s insistence on that point. He lays bare the first reactions of the Government of Canada to the claims, and the ITC’s response. He discusses the different Inuit representatives that took part in the negotiations. He talks about the importance that the Inuit of Nunavut attached to government autonomy and to protecting their language and culture. He closes the chapter stating that this struggle allowed him to get to know the heads of the First Nations very well, and understand that they were dealing with situations that were similar in many ways.