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The Creation of Nunavut

This section presents the life stories of Inuit leaders who played an essential role in the long political process that led to the creation of Nunavut. This defining moment of Canadian history is here told by the very actors who invested their lives in making Nunavut come to life.

In the Inuit Tapirisat Canada document, Proposed Agreement in Principle for Northwest Territories Land Claims, the creation of Nunavut was set as a prime negotiating principle. The protection of Inuit language and culture was also set as a high priority. The document listed principles over which the parties should reach agreement. When John Amagoalik introduced this document to the new DIAND Minister, Hugh Faulkner, in December 1977 in Iqaluit, John said, "The 1976 proposal was a lawyer's agreement; this one is from the people."

At its Annual General Meeting in Igloolik in September 1979, the Inuit Land Claims Commission, chaired by John Amagoalik, presented a discussion paper called Political Development in Nunavut that explained in more detail the position of the Inuit negotiating team.
That same year, Peter Ittinuar was elected to Parliament for the riding of Nunatsiaq as a New Democratic Party member. He was the first native Canadian ever elected to Parliament with the exception of Louis Riel who was elected in 1874, while still in hiding in the United States. With Ittinuar, Inuit gained another important national stage where they could discuss publicly their dream of a new territory.

In April 1982, supported by a majority of aboriginal and Inuit MLAs at the Yellowknife Legislative Assembly, a plebiscite was held in the Northwest Territories to decide on the question of dividing the Northwest Territories. A majority, 53% of the voters, supported division.

In November 26, 1982, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, John Munro, announced in the House of Commons that the federal government supported in principle the division of the Northwest Territories and the creation of Nunavut. On that same day Peter Ittinuar crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the Liberal government.   

These defining steps opened the way to the creation of Nunavut, a new Canadian territory, on April 1st, 1999.

John Amagoalik
When we first presented our Nunavut proposal to the Government of Canada, they indicated that they did not want to deal with political development at the land claims table. They very much wanted to negotiate land claims and to leave political development on ‘another track’. Those were their words. The Inuit wanted to keep the two things together. We made it very clear that we could not sign any agreement that did not include the commitment to create Nunavut. At that point we agreed to disagree. But we agreed to start negotiating the details of the land claims agreement while we were pursuing Nunavut through the political arena. We made it clear that when the land claims agreement was ready to be signed, the creation of Nunavut would have to be brought in, if it was ready to be part of the land claims agreement. In the twenty years that it took to negotiate the land claims settlement, the two went along parallel lines. We were negotiating the claims here, and we were pursuing Nunavut through other means.

(Changing the Face of Canada, Chapter 8).