22 March 1999
For immediate release
For the first time in 50 years, on April 1, Canada will see the creation of a new territory. The territory is called Nunavut, which means "our land", and 85% of its population are Inuit eskimos. At one-fifth the size of Canada and with a population of only 27,000, Nunavut takes in some of the wildest land in the world.
Sussex University academic Annis May Timpson is one of Britain's leading experts on Nunavut. Having visited the territory and interviewed the people at the sharp end of the implementation process, she says that the creation of Nunavut "is something the Inuit people have been striving towards for many years." Hope for the new land is symbolised in the name of the document which sets out the legislation - 'Footprints in New Snow'.
A 23-year land claim process was finally settled in 1993 with the agreement that 350 000 km of the 1.9 million km of land which makes up Nunavut would be protected by Inuit land claims. It was agreed that the territory would be governed jointly by Inuit and non-Inuit Canadians, with its own Premier, its own cabinet and its own legislation. According to Dr Timpson, "The process will be fascinating. The government will be run by consensus, with no political parties."
Nunavut, which used to be part of the North West territories, will be given a huge cash injection to sustain the transition. CN$600 million a year for the next three years is being channelled into providing the territory with a more stable economy and more adequate education and welfare provision. As Dr Timpson points out, however, the Inuit way of life faces monumental changes which might cause new problems of their own. "Of course, the Inuit have fought for the creation of Nunavut. But despite concerted attempts to decentralise power, and the Nunavut Implementation Commission’s efforts to consult every community, there will still be a clash between traditional modes of existence and the government’s technocratic, modern ways of doing business. Expectations are running high, but the development of Nunavut will be a struggle when general levels of education are so limited"
There are 28 carabou for every person in Nunavut, and Inuit culture is still heavily dependent on the right to hunt. But conflict may well emerge between the conservationist lobby and those who want to maintain tradition. Gun control legislation which applies to the rest of the country is being fought fiercely under the terms of the land claim, which enshrines the Inuits’ right to hunt.
If the money provided for setting up the territory is not invested wisely it could cause more problems in a land which has six times the avarage suicide rate for Canada, high welfare dependency and problems with alcohol abuse. Dr Timpson has faith that with the enormous hope which has fueled its creation, Nunavut could overcome such problems and conflicts. But as she points out, "There are many problems which should not be overlooked."
For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335,
email email@example.com or Annis May Timpson, School of English and American Studies, email firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel. 01293 535968.