Self-Determination, An Inuit Story

Parka by: Victoria Arctic Fashion

Model: Kiana Foster

Nunavut Sivuniksavut teaches Inuit to think critically about dynamics of power, control, independence, autonomy and self determination between Indigenous peoples and the governments that wish to control every aspect of their lands and lives. 

In our Contemporary Issues class, the first assignment was to read, line by line, the minutes of the Coppermine Conference in 1970. The meeting was a turning point for Inuit self determination when, spurred by massive oil and gas exploration taking place on Banks Island, people gathered to draw up resolutions on Indigenous rights, education, hunting and trapping, administration, and the control of our land for its resources. What came out of that meeting was “Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, which means ‘Inuit Working Toward Unity in Canada’. 

At the time, Inuit were located in five regions across Canada; the Mackenzie Delta, Keewatin, Baffin Island, Labrador and the arctic in Quebec but never attempted to unite together. However, Inuit in these five regions quickly realized that we needed to come together, as one, to fight for our self determination against the Canadian government.

Twenty years of negotiations and each region developed their own Land Claims agreement. For Inuit in Nunavut, the Nunavut Agreement was ratified in 1993. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated replaces Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami role, so that ITK can remain united with all Inuit, not just in Nunavut.

Inuit had fought relentlessly and patiently. For twenty years Inuit were saying that this was our land, and for reasons I still don’t quite understand Canada thought it was theirs. But, you see, Inuit do not actually believe you can “own land”- that belief is of settlers, not Indigenous peoples. Inuit believe we have an inherent responsibility and obligation to care for the land. So how does this end? Partly because Inuit let the Canadian government believe they “own it” in exchange, Inuit will always have final control/say on what happens on the land. Any resource development that wishes to encroach on our territory, will have to get through us. We control the management of the land. It the most comprehensive land claims agreement in the world. From residential school to Nunavut (Our Land). All we wanted was to protect our land, water, wildlife, culture. Our self determination.

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