By Celia Taylor
May 21, 2021
The Canadian Government has a history of feeling more compelled than other governments to reconcile with and provide justice for their indigenous populations (Hicks et al, 2016). However, the creation of the Nunavut Territory was an advancement many indigenous people had never foreseen or thought possible (Hicks et al, 2016). Prior to the creation of Nunavut, the Inuit, for whom the territory was created, struggled with issues common to other indigenous tribes, not only in the region but around the world (Hicks et al, 2016). Their culture was dying due to non-Native cultural influences (Hicks et al, 2016). Inuit children were not learning the Inuit language, Inuktitut, in school, and many Inuit were relocated into western-style housing far from where they could hunt and gather, destroying historical and cultural traditions (Hicks et al, 2016). The Inuit, wanting to avoid further assimilation, began looking for an alternative to the reservation system, which had often harmed indigenous people in the past (Hicks et al, 2016). The Inuit began navigating the Canadian political system as marginalized, poor, and uneducated people, roadblocks that in other countries would have left them neglected (Hicks et al, 2016). However, many lawmakers in the Canadian government also desired reconciliation with their indigenous population (Hicks et al, 2016). Both sides knew to end the marginalization of the Inuit, power would have to be decentralized and given to local indigenous stakeholders (Hicks et al, 2016). Thus, after decades of conception and formulation, although not without conflict, Nunavut was created on April 1st, 1999 (Hicks et al, 2016). Together, the Inuit and the Canadian government created an autonomous Native territory that may serve as a future model for other indigenous peoples who seek more sovereignty than the reservation system allows (Hicks et al, 2016). This research paper will illustrate the reconciliation process which led to the conception and creation of the Nunavut territory, its current state, and the issues that remain (Hicks et al, 2016).
A Brief History of the Inuit and Northwest Territories
Observing Nunavut, formerly the Northwest Territories (NWT), one might assume due to its harsh climate and geographic isolation, the Inuit who inhabit it would possess one of the most intact of indigenous cultures that exist today. The Inuit peoples migrated to what is now Nunavut from Siberia via the Bering Strait roughly 4000 years ago (Kersey, 1994). Due to the inhospitable climate in the region, the Inuit remained completely isolated until the late 19th century, despite greater Canada’s colonial and commercial settlement (Kersey, 1994). Despite being Canada’s largest province, in the early 1900’s, the NWT, had a population of less than 30,000 (most of whom were Inuit) living in scattered, isolated villages without roads (Jull, 1999). In 1905 Saskatchewan and Alberta, which were growing in population and were a part of the NWT were made provinces, and the remainder of the NWT lost its elected representatives and going forward was administered by government appointed bureaucrats (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This was the time period when the Inuit had more regular and permanent contact with non-Natives in the region, namely fur traders who inhabited the NWT (Göcke, 2011). Eventually, the NWT were granted a commissioner, however this commissioner was not an elected official, but an official appointed by the federal government in Ottawa as well (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Finally, a small council was also created to govern the NWT, however, it was also made up of federally appointed officials based in Ottawa (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Despite a lack of representation and governance in the NWT, it became an important base for the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War Two, and additional military installations during the Cold War (Jull, 1999). These military installations brought in mostly white, transient, administrative outsiders who had little regard for the delicate balance Inuit life involved (Jull, 1999). Further illustrating the lack of involvement of these outsiders, the government and military administrators and officials did not provide social services, leaving that to missionaries, whalers, or fur trading companies (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This is likely due to the outlook portrayed in the following quote:
“While Dominion policy towards Native people in southern Canada had the official objective of making them ‘good, industrious and useful citizens’ by settling them on reserves and replacing the hunt with agriculture, northern Native people must follow their natural mode of living and not … depend upon white men’s food and clothing which are unsuited to their needs” (Abel, 1987).
It was during the Cold War that the Inuit were drawn out of their communal hunting and gathering igloo villages and into sedentary hamlets where they were forced to rely on welfare for food, healthcare, and other social services (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This move was prompted by U.S. soldiers, who urged the Canadian Government to intervene, after the soldiers had witnessed the deplorable living conditions of the Inuit that had occurred after a drop in fur prices (Göcke, 2011). Still unrepresented in both local and federal government, the Inuits’ traditional way of life was weakened by this intervention, and they lost any remaining power they had over their land (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). While they were able to avoid the reserve system, and never signed a treaty with the federal government, as did other indigenous groups at the time, their children were enrolled in English-speaking boarding schools (this lasted a relatively short time period: starting in the 1950s and only until the 1960s) and subjected to non-communal living conditions which ultimately devastated their culture (Göcke, 2011). However, it was this group of indigenous children who would eventually conceptualize Nunavut after the Inuit came to represent what had become of many other indigenous groups around the world living in otherwise developed countries: a population haunted by alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, suicide, and generally high mortality rates due to these and many other factors (Göcke, 2011). In response to their lack of representation, some progressive non-indigenous community members facilitated the creation of Inuit community councils in order to parlay them into having the ability to solve problems in the method of the Canadian government (Jull, 1999).
The process of attempting to develop local autonomy and better operation within Canadian governance structures failed, as it so differed from the Inuit’s original decision-making process in which the oldest male was the leader, but often consulted various tribal members in an informal, consultative method (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Additionally, because the Inuit were understandably preoccupied by several other issues, such as a broken culture, a loss of language, as well as the loss of control of their land (Jull, 1999). However, while these attempts at introducing the Inuit to a more formal, western-style of governance failed, this process unified the Inuit and would lead to the proposal for the Nunavut Territory (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
In the early 1950’s non-Native residents from the Mackenzie District in the mainland south-western region of the NWT requested elected representation, to which Ottawa agreed, in all likelihood because the southern Mackenzie district had a growing population of white, non-Native residents, which were perceived as easy to incorporate into the central government (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Further requests for representation by more northerly Inuit residents of the NWT were denied, and northern Inuit residents were not granted the right to vote in elections for regional representation until 1966, probably because predominately Inuit north was still subject to an unofficial policy of laissez-faire governance (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
As the Mackenzie district in the mainland south-west of the NWT grew, and government officials still were unsure of how to govern the more indigenous north of the NWT, it was suggested in the 1960’s that the NWT split (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This never happened; however, the fact that a split was even considered demonstrates the Canadian Government’s continued befuddlement on how to govern the vast and isolated Inuit dominated north. It also shows why future calls to place governance in the hands of the Inuit were well received. The Canadian Government seemed to believe that the Inuit culture and language were obstacles to effective governance (Jull, 1999). So, while the government, private entities, and white settlers all had interests in the NWT, ultimately the Canadian government had such trouble envisioning integrating a demographically majority-indigenous territory into the central government, the Canadian government preferred to leave them be (Jull, 1999).
The Conception of the Nunavut Territory and Early Justice
While Nunavut was not created until April 1st, 1999, it was conceptualized as early as the 1970’s, an era in which substantial oil and gas reserves were discovered in its territory, and for the first time, the NWT captured nationwide attention (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This was also a period where a collective indigenous consciousness was further developed and asserted, not just in Canada, but worldwide (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Ottawa’s laissez faire style of governing the NWT soon turned to an attack on indigenous rights through a proposal to eliminate the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The elimination of the DIAND would have erased any Inuit territorial and governmental rights (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). In response to this and other issues, the Inuit who had been attempting to work within the Canadian system to save DIAND, realized they were being discriminated against and not allowed to take part in the democratic system the Canadians created, and formed the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) to unify and head a number of other previously existing Inuit organizations (Jull, 1999 & Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
An early win came in 1973 when the Supreme Court recognized indigenous land rights predated the Royal Proclamation of 1763 that ended the Seven Years’ War and granted all French territory in North America to Great Britain in the case Calder v. Attorney General of British Columbia (Kersey, 1994). Supplied with a new national Comprehensive Land Claims Policy (CLC), the ITC began to make land claims in the NWT (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Soon following, the Supreme Court also decided indigenous self-government was a fundamental right to native people (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). These wins provided early justice and likely strengthened the morale of the Inuit in NWT. Foreseeing the flood of indigenous land claims to come, the Canadian government created the Aboriginal Comprehensive Land Claims Policy in 1973 which claimed that once in indigenous tribe substantiates its historical rights to land, that tribe may not only own the land, but also control its resources (Kersey, 1994). This was supported by the non-indigenous citizens of Canada who respected and supported the Inuit and was boosted by Canada’s desire to continue their progressive reputation in regards to their relationships with indigenous tribes (Göcke, 2011). The government in Ottawa even offered funding to help native people determine their land rights (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). These court decisions and subsequent policies show a considerable distinction from the American way of handling indigenous peoples in which Native land and resources today are still being managed by the federal government from the allotment era.
While the Inuit in the NWT had some early successes in obtaining justice in the area of land rights, they were not granted unlimited time to make these claims (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). With the discovery of oil and gas in the NWT, there was an urgency in solidifying land claims before private enterprise impinged on their lands (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). However, the Canadian government continued its progressive streak and when a pipeline through the NWT was proposed, Justice Thomas Berger, a figure important to the continued success of the indigenous efforts, was appointed to head an inquiry determining the impacts of the proposed pipeline on the region (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Justice Berger was a voice for indigenous people and ultimately stated the project should not move forward until indigenous land claims in the NWT were settled (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
By 1975, the ITC had begun the Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Project in which researchers found that for thousands of years, the Inuit had used and inhabited nearly all of the Canadian Arctic, thus beginning a large-scale land claim negotiation for a new territory to be called Nunavut, or “Our Land” in Inuktitut (Kersey, 1994). One thing was clear, the Inuit in the NWT had no interest in creating and occupying a reservation, a system which institutionalized marginalization (Jull, 1999). The Inuit proposed to create a territory and governance that would be independent and align to their culture, rather than simply continuing to decentralize from the Canadian Government in a province (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). What followed was over twenty years of reconciliatory negotiations.
The Road to Reconciliation
After completely withdrawing their original proposal for Nunavut in 1976, and three years of additional deliberations and failed proposals, the ITC settled upon a final proposal (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This proposal included four aims described in the following:
“(1) ownership rights over portions of land rich in non-renewable resources; (2) decision-making power over the management of land and resources within the settlement area; (3) financial compensation and royalties from resource development in the area; and (4) a commitment from Ottawa to negotiate self-government and to create a Nunavut Government once a land claim agreement-in-principle was signed” (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
If agreed upon, the Inuit would yield all additional land claims. Negotiations stalled multiple times as the Inuit insisted on the creation of Nunavut as a territory with its own non-provincial government, whereas the government wanted to recognize land claims without creating the Nunavut territory (Kersey, 1994). However, in 1980, the government in Ottawa accepted this proposal and thus began the long road to the creation of Nunavut (Kersey, 1994).
As seemingly progressive as Canada’s government had been in providing justice for, and reconciling with the Inuit, creating Nunavut did not come without conflict. Once it had been established that the NWT would be divided to create Nunavut, the question would be where and how to do so (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Conflict ensued when the Prime Minister at the time, Prime Minister Trudeau, assigned a commission which determined creating Nunavut would have conflicted political interests in the region (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The commission recommended the region continue to decentralize from the Canadian Government but remain a part of the NWT (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The commission also noted that the region was financially dependent on the Canadian Government, and the region would suffer if made an independent territory (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The creation of Nunavut came to a standstill (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
In response, political leaders in the NWT created a Unity Committee to come to an agreement concerning how to divide the territory (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The Unity Committee held a referendum and determined that a larger margin of residents wanted to divide the NWT into two smaller territories, Nunavut and Denendeh (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The leaders in the NWT presented this to the Canadian Government and agreed to this division on three conditions listed as follows:
“The first was a settlement of the Inuit land claims. The second was the establishment of an agreed upon boundary line that would divide the NWT in two parts. The third involved concluding a political accord which would define the basic structural arrangements of the future of the Nunavut territorial government” (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
Despite agreement to divide the NWT on these conditions, movement stalled again, this time due to the Canadian Government’s refusal to consider indigenous self-government in conjunction with the Inuit’s land claims (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
Additionally, the Canadian Government refused to grant the Inuit power over resource management, something very important to the Inuit (Jull, 1999). The Canadian Government continued to insist on decentralization rather than an independent Inuit government (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This was directly at odds with the Canadian Government’s third condition to divide the NWT “concluding a political accord which would define the basic structural arrangements of the future of the Nunavut territorial government” (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This led the Inuit to abandon the full conceptualization of Nunavut for a lesser land claim (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
Additionally, conflict within the ITC developed as some groups the ITC represented grew frustrated at the slow movement and process in which land claims were being managed (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). One group, the Inuvialuit, eventually split from the ITC, and created their own land claim agreement with the Canadian Government (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Other regional groups from Baffin, Keewatin, and Kitikmoet created the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN), which eventually replaced the ITC in negotiating Inuit land claims that were to make up Nunavut (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
The stand-still between the Canadian Government and the group of Inuit pushing for the creation of the Nunavut territory under the TFN continued and was a source of conflict and frustration for the Inuit pursuing the Nunavut concept (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). This time, conflict revolved around where to divide the territory (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). It was difficult to find a consensus among all Inuit and other tribes residing in the NWT (notably the Dene/Metis) on this subject (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The Dene/Metis and Inuit claimed that their lands overlapped, creating additional confusion and conflict in the negotiation process leading to divisions in the TFN (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Ultimately, these issues were never solved, and the TFN moved forward with a proposal without a consensus (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). However, this led the Canadian Government to again take issue with the new TFN land claim (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Although the TFN and Canadian Government finally signed a land agreement in principle in 1990, Inuit leaders demanded the settlement of the land dispute prior to ratifying any final land claim agreement and continued to insist on an independent Nunavut government (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Ultimately, Prime Minister Mulroney was called upon by multiple groups to propose a settlement compromise (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The Parker Line was narrowly approved in a referendum in 1992 and became the dividing border of the NWT (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
Reconciliation: The Creation of Nunavut Territory
Just prior to the creation of the Parker Line, the Canadian Government and TFN had also reached a consensus on Inuit Land Claims in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The NLCA represented the most extensive agreement between a North American government and an indigenous tribe (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). In the NLCA the Inuit surrendered some land claims, however they received compensation for the surrendered land claims they surrendered (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The territorial government of Nunavut gained control over one-fifth of Canada’s total land mass, which included mineral rights, and would include royalties for all existing private resource development (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The NCLA included conditions that facilitated self-reliance and cultural welfare for the Inuit (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The NCLA was signed on May 25th, 1993 (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
The Nunavut Political Accord, which became known as the Nunavut Act, establishing the Nunavut government was signed in October of 1992 (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The Nunavut Territory was to officially be established on April 1st, 1999 (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee stated:
“They (the Inuit) have done this openly and democratically, using powers of persuasion. They are now better equipped to determine their own future and can participate more fully in national decision making. Ottawa is a fellow government. This is the beauty – and the simplicity- of Nunavut” (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
Supporting bills easily passed the Canadian legislature, some within a matter of minutes (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Nunavut would not only serve the Inuit, but also was supposed to be a powerful political entity within Canada (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
The Creation of the Nunavut Government
Although the Nunavut Act establishing the government of Nunavut was signed in 1992, far more work had to be done to organize and define the structures of Nunavut’s government (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). It was stated in the Nunavut Act that the government would be led by a democratically elected legislative assembly, as well as a premier, cabinet, and commissioner. (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Previously existing regional laws would be in place until otherwise repealed (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). While the elected officials had no requirements to be indigenous, because they were elected officials and Inuit make up 85% of the Nunavut territory, demographics would lead governmental structure and laws to reflect indigenous cultural values (Göcke, 2011). The 15% of the Nunavut population that was not Inuit was largely sequestered to the capital, Iqaluit, and were mostly transient workers (Göcke, 2011).
In February 1999, prior to its official inauguration on April 1st, 1999, the first election in Nunavut was held to elect the legislative assembly (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). There were and are no political parties, as all Nunavut residents may run for office as independents (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). Nunavut is the only region in Canada that has no political parties at the territorial level (Göcke, 2011). Following the elections, the assembly selected its first premier, and the Canadian government selected the first commissioner (Lackenbauer et al, 2018). The new Nunavut government established a number of departments, with specialties ranging from culture to elders, and attempted to distribute power through allocating government functions across the territory to avoid centralization of power in the capital (Lackenbauer et al, 2018).
Nunavut is a territory, not a province, because of this its internal legislative power is limited, as is its ability to borrow money (Göcke, 2011). There are 19 electoral districts, each granted one elected representative, voted in by a simple majority (Göcke, 2011). The legislators select the Premier and cabinet through a simple majority in a secret ballot (Göcke, 2011). Nunavut has no foreign affairs power and must follow federal law, however, unlike other territories, is not required to implement international agreements (Göcke, 2011). Nunavut has more power than other territories because under the Canadian constitution it was established by an indigenous land claim, meaning its territory is not subject to federal restructuring like other territories (Göcke, 2011). However, because of the style of representative government, indigenous government is not assured, and could change if there were to be a large immigration of non-indigenous people to Nunavut (Göcke, 2011). However, within Nunavut, the Inuit were given special rights and royalties to land that other territories were not granted (Göcke, 2011).
The creation of Nunavut was not without conflict and division, not only between the Inuit and the Canadian government, but between the Inuit and other indigenous groups, and the Inuit themselves. However, the Inuit, an uneducated, impoverished, isolated, and previously ignored indigenous group, were able to create their own territory despite their being lucrative natural resources and other interests in their region (Jull, 1999). The Inuit, who conceptualized and lobbied for the creation of Nunavut, should receive much of the credit for the creation of this revolutionary territory. However, in the decades leading to the creation of the Nunavut territory, the non-indigenous Canadian citizens and government led with a progressive mindset and the intention to do good for the Inuit peoples (Jull, 1999). It is for this reason that Peter Jull, author of “Reconciliation & Northern Territories, Canadian Style: The Nunavut Process and Product” states:
“Nunavut and other ‘regional agreements’ in North America are not simply documents with clauses which can be run off on copiers and applied elsewhere. They result from processes of social and political change; the actual documents are only one aspect of a larger process. A reader can be misled, missing quid pro quos and contexts. In order to progress, northern and Canadian society had to change. The whole country grew in social and cultural awareness” (Jull, 1999).
While no reconciliation is perfect, one could claim that there were ideal conditions for the Inuit to achieve justice and reconciliation in their goals of creating an indigenous territory. For decades the Inuit were ignored, and there was an eventual attempt to Westernize them through their movement out of traditional villages into small Canadian-made hamlets and a Western education, however, those attempts did not continue very long, and most importantly there was no violence in response to their lack of social and political equality (Jull, 1999). The Canadian government and its non-indigenous citizens on the other hand, while having interests in the NWT, also felt disconnected from the region. It was a cold, vast, and bleak territory inhabited by indigenous people (Jull, 1999). However, the Canadian government and non-indigenous citizens were generally progressive and well-meaning (Jull, 1999). Just as important, the non-indigenous citizens and government believed the Inuit people loved and respected the land, and would also protect it, as they had attempted to in the past (Jull, 1999). While there were disputes in the decades leading up to the creation of Nunavut, the majority of both sides generally approached the negotiations with flexibility and goodwill (Jull, 1999). This reconciliation shows that even in ideal conditions, reconciliation can take decades. The Inuit’s leadership ability to convince the majority of their people to continue to work with the Canadian Government as a community over a long period of time rather than deteriorate into a fractured separatist movement with multiple competing demands is an example of how governments and ethnic groups can work together to avoid infinite splitting.
The creation of Nunavut was considered a bold project which would not only provide justice to a large indigenous group, but also an attempt to solve socio-cultural problems that had been deepening for decades (Göcke, 2011). However, the ultimate success of Nunavut has been called into question (Göcke, 2011).
Nunavut continues to be financially dependent upon the Canadian government, and the Canadian Government did not fulfill their financial agreements made upon signing of the NCLA, which has hampered a number of societal improvements that were expected to be aided through this funding (Göcke, 2011). Additionally, a large portion of the territorial government’s employees are made up of non-Inuit peoples because the Inuit do not have the education, training, or technical expertise to fill these positions (Göcke, 2011). Nunavut’s economy struggles with a high unemployment rate, a low median income where many are still dependent on welfare, and high living expenses due to the lack of transportation infrastructure (Göcke, 2011). The economy lacks any support from agricultural or manufacturing industries (Göcke, 2011). Because of this, the Inuit have not seen a substantial raise in quality of life since the creation of Nunavut (Göcke, 2011). The Inuit still suffer from poor living conditions that effect their mental and physical health, and Nunavut is plagued with alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, suicide, low rates of grade school retention and more (Göcke, 2011). The Inuits’ language is still being lost due to having to employ non-indigenous people as teachers and in other governmental jobs (Göcke, 2011).
As noted above, the Canadian Government did not fulfill their financial promises made in the NCLA (Göcke, 2011). This greatly limited the government of Nunavut’s ability to properly address social, health, and welfare issues because the Canadian Government only provides Nunavut enough funding to run the government of Nunavut (Göcke, 2011). The Inuit have also not enjoyed the full benefits of royalties from the exploitation of natural resources because of federal/territorial land particulars that are not beneficial to the Inuit, notably the fact that the Inuit only own 18% of the land in Nunavut, and only receive a small share of royalties from federal land exploitations (Göcke, 2011). The Inuit have less power to manage their land and resources than previously envisioned in the NCLA and Nunavut Political Accords (Marecic, 1999). However, Nunavut and the Canadian Government are set to proceed with devolution talks to change this in what Katja Göcke describes as the “next-step” in the Nunavut project (Göcke, 2011). Despite these shortcomings, the Inuit are reluctant to push the Canadian government to fulfill their financial obligations, which amount to over one billion dollars (Göcke, 2011). This may be due to the fact that this could require legal action which could harm the Inuit’s relationship with the Canadian Government (Göcke, 2011). However, does the lack of funding and continuation of socio-cultural issues that plague the Inuit mean that reconciliation did not occur?
Ultimately, while not unflawed, Nunavut was an ideal reconciliatory process, and the Canadian Government continues to be willing to address issues that present themselves resulting from the agreement. This approach reflects the indigenous view that political agreements are a beginning, not an end (Marecic, 1999). The NCLA and Nunavut Political Accord were both realistic and revolutionary for the socio-political mindset Canada and its non-indigenous citizens held at the time. Many believe that the creation of Nunavut was not only a triumph for the Inuit, but changed the political landscape in Canada for every indigenous group in the country, granting other indigenous groups the power to achieve more rights and sovereignty in self-government and land rights (Marecic, 1999).
A Conflict Analysis and Resolution Perspective
Observing the Nunavut Reconciliation through a Conflict Analysis and Resolution perspective, one can see many reasons why this reconciliation was successful. The Nunavut Reconciliation met all of Robert Riciglano’s proper framework for systematic change in peacebuilding, including structural, attitudinal, and transactional contexts (Riciglano, 2016). For the structural framework, both the Canadian judicial and legislative branches were open to changing not only governmental laws, but institutions to better meet the Inuits’ cultural and reconciliatory needs. Both parties partook in attitudinal cooperation and were eventually successful in developing a shared vision. Both parties were patient in developing intergroup relationships based on mutual cooperation and problem solving, centered on the shared belief that they could come to an agreement. Last, transactional processes were used so successfully that reluctant persuadables became persuadables and a strong consensus between groups was formed so incorrigibles and bad faith actors on either side were removed from the reconciliatory process (Burgess, 2020).
The Nunavut Reconciliation also deals with Lederach’s three paradoxes as written about in “Building Peace” (Lederach, 2002). Through allowing the Inuit an opportunity to build a future territory, the Canadian Government acknowledged the expression of a painful past so they could both look towards a shared, interdependent future. This allowed for Lederach’s meeting place of truth and mercy, where each group chose a transformed relationship, one where the Canadian Government was no longer ignoring the Inuit, and one where the Inuit felt comfortable conferring with the Canadian Government about their future. Last, the Canadian Government allowed for justice and peace through judicial and legislative decisions that would allow the groups to envision a future together.
The Nunavut Agreement was an act of retrospective reconciliation in which the Canadian Government took the opportunity to look back and right a wrong. Canada had ignored and marginalized the Inuit, and provided reconciliation by granting more autonomy to Inuit. It may have seemed as though the Inuit were doing much of the work and planning. However, this shows that the Canadian Government was open to the Inuit people developing their own government, and that each group trusted the other enough to come to the negotiating table hundreds of times to develop a shared future.
To be fair, this conflict never devolved into an intractable conflict. As stated above, social, cultural, and political conditions were ideal for this relationship to develop. Canada’s general attitude of progressiveness allowed the Canadian Government and their non-indigenous citizens to skip over all negative societal emotions described by Andrew Schaap’s “Responsibility” chapter in “Political Reconciliation” that can hinder reconciliation, such as guilt and denial, and shame and sentimentality (Schaap, 2009). Additionally, Canadians as a whole were proud of their progressive reputation, and sought to maintain it, especially concerning indigenous rights.
While the Inuit had suffered at the hands of the Canadian Government, they initially suffered due to neglect rather than systematic oppression until the 1950s, at which time they experienced similar oppressive policies that other indigenous groups had experienced since the late 1800’s. The Inuit were never confined to a reservation or signed any treaties or agreements which were broken by the Canadian Government; therefore, they had more trust in the government than other tribes.
While not without shortcomings, the Nunavut reconciliation and territorial agreement was the most far-reaching indigenous political and land agreement the world has seen (Kersey, 1994). It has since been looked to as a model for other indigenous groups around the world (Kersey, 1994). In the two decades of negotiations, both sides participated in envisioning a shared future and acted in good faith, making this an ideal reconciliation. Both the Inuit and the Canadian Government made concessions to one another while also attempting a bold yet realistic agreement that would work within the current structure of the Canadian Government. Shortcomings of the agreement include: the Canadian government failing to fulfill their fiduciary duties, the Inuit finding they have less control over land and resources than the arrangement was meant to give them, and continued economic and cultural suffering of the Inuit people (Légaré, 2008). However, the Canadian Government has shown good faith intentions on addressing these issues not only with the Inuit, but with other indigenous tribes throughout Canada as well. This means that while there was an agreement, the reconciliation will continue as needed and both the Inuit and the Canadian Government see the Nunavut Agreement as an ongoing shared process.
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- Nunavut map: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Nunavut_in_Canada_2.svg.MapGrid, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons,
- Nunavut town: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gridarendal/31940251832 BY grid-aRENDAL CC BY-NC-SA-2.0