In celebration of our land
Twenty years ago, the map of Canada changed. On April 1, 1999, a border was drawn through the Northwest Territories, allowing for a new territory, Nunavut, to emerge. Nunavut means “our land” in Inuktitut. In this photo, three girls wearing caribou-skin coats play a traditional game in Iqaluit on the eve of Nunavut’s creation. (Iqaluit is today the capital of the territory.)
At the time, Nunavut’s population was about 26,800. It has since grown to 38,000. Inuit make up eighty-five per cent of the territory’s population. Their push for better governance of the land started in the 1970s. After extensive land-claim negotiations between Inuit and the federal government, residents in 1982 voted in favour of dividing the Northwest Territories. Ten years later, another plebiscite approved the proposed boundary between the two new territories.
The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act — the largest Indigenous landclaims settlement in Canada — and the Nunavut Act were both adopted in 1993. It took another six years to determine how the territory would be governed, including creating new government departments and selecting the territory’s first premier, Paul Okalik.
The territory has four official languages: Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English, and French. Eighty-three per cent of Nunavummiut — people who live in Nunavut — speak Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun as their mother tongue. Promoting the Inuit language as the working language in the public sector is one of the priorities outlined in Turaaqtavut, the mandate published by the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut that sets the vision for the territory up to 2021.