Self government

Nunavut Inuit organization plans to seek self-government

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which represents approximately 30,000 Inuit in Nunavut, plans to advance self-government negotiations.

“What we would like to see is that there are better services provided to the Inuit of Nunavut that incorporate Inuit worldviews and end the current model of public government,” said NTI President, Aluki Kotierk.

It is good that the Government of Nunavut, established when the territory was created in 1999 by the Nunavut Act, was intended to serve its majority Inuit population.

But it hasn’t worked after 22 years, as evidenced by widespread poverty, hunger and a high incidence of suicide, Kotierk said.

“All of these different determinants that would determine whether or not lives are improving continue to be alarming. And so, it makes us think, is there a better way to meet the needs?” she told CBC.

“When we work with the Government of Nunavut, or want these specific programs, the answer is often, ‘But this is public government.'”

Therefore, NTI, which is the entity responsible for protecting the rights of Inuit under the Nunavut Agreementmust seek alternative means to meet the specific needs of Inuit, she said.

A resolution to this effect was passed Nov. 16 by delegates at NTI’s Annual General Meeting in Rankin Inlet.

Nunavut agreement not honored

According to Kotierk, one of the ways the public government has failed the Inuit is by not respecting some of the articles of the Nunavut Agreement, which was signed by the Inuit and the federal government in 1993 and sets out the Inuit land and other rights in the territory.

These include section 23, for example, which covers Inuit employment in the public service.

The article states that Inuit employment should reflect the percentage — approximately 85% of the 39,000 population — of the territory’s Inuit population.

A presentation on self-government at the annual general meeting noted that the goal was never achieved. A June territorial government report shows that Inuit make up only 50% of the Government of Nunavut’s workforce and only 20% of senior management.

This impacts how programs and services are designed and developed and the well-being of Nunavummiut, Kotierk said.

The result is “very evident in the way we continue to self-harm and the way we continue to have violent outbursts in our communities,” Kotierk said.

“And these are just symptoms of what continues to happen in our communities, and the system of public government is supposed to help alleviate this. And instead, it continues to deteriorate our sense of well-being.”

Kotierk, center, appears in the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit to file a lawsuit against the Government of Nunavut in October 2021. The lawsuit alleged that the Government of Nunavut discriminates against Inuit by not providing education in Inuktut at the same level as English and French. (Nick Murray/CBC News)

Legal action for discrimination in progress

The resolution comes after a year of disputes with the Nunavut government. In October, NTI filed a lawsuit against the Government of Nunavut alleging that it discriminates against Inuit by not offering education in Inuktut to the same degree as English or French.

Also in October, NTI considered a lawsuit over a change made by the Government of Nunavut to the way taxes are collected on Inuit-owned land.

Earlier this week, NTI’s presentation offered three options for AGM delegates to consider: reach an agreement with the Government of Nunavut to take over the services; develop NTI’s ability to provide services directly to Inuit; or committing the federal government to establishing formal self-government in Canada.

“If we pursue the comprehensive land claims approach, we know it will take many years,” Kotkierk said. “But we also know that if we go through an agreement right now that takes some responsibility for public services, that could be something that could start to address some of the issues that we have in our communities more immediately.”

As a first step, the adopted resolution asks the organization to obtain this negotiation mandate with the federal government.

“I think we’ve now been instructed to do the practical work of going to the federal government to ask for this warrant,” Kotierk said. “And we will work with our board of directors to come up with a constitution or a vision statement.”

A change of direction

But now there is a new player on the NTI field, new Premier PJ Akeeagok, who was elected Premier by his colleagues on Wednesday.

PJ Akeeagok speaks to the media following his selection as Premier of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut on Wednesday. (David Gunn/CBC)

Prior to entering land politics, Akeeagok led the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and served on the board of directors of NTI, where he supported the decision for self-government.

On Thursday, the day after his selection, Kotierk spoke to Akeeagok about areas they can work on.

“I suspect he will be very supportive of all the things Inuit organizations are trying to achieve through Inuit self-determination,” she said.

The two plan to meet on Monday, Kotierk said.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera