Nunavummiut now in control of Nunavut | Polarjournal
From left to right, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nunavut Premier P. J. Akeeagok and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) President Aluki Kotierk gathered in Iqaluit to sign an agreement described as historic. Image: P. J. Akeeagok / Facebook

An agreement transferring full responsibility to the Government of Nunavut for the management of its territory and resources was signed last Thursday. Between the housing crisis and recruitment difficulties, the challenges posed by this agreement remain great for the region.

An agreement was signed on Thursday, January 18 in Iqaluit, transferring full powers from the federal government to the Government of Nunavut in the management of its territory and resources.

The Nunavut Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement now guarantees Nunavut and its residents decision-making authority over how the territory’s public lands, freshwater and non-renewable resources are used.

“With the devolution agreement, our decisions, our resources, our opportunities are in our hands – for Nunavut, by Nunavut. AANGAINNIQ – a clear purpose!”, the Premier of Nunavut at the podium for his speech during the agreement signing ceremony. Image: P. J. Akeeagok

Since the 1960s, the Canadian federal government has gradually transferred responsibility for sectors such as health, education, housing, social services and airports to the three northern territories: Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. However, land and resource management was held by the federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.

Now, thanks to this 230-page agreement, Nunavut is in the driver’s seat. Not only will he be able to determine how to manage his resources, but he may also benefit from them. “Today marks the finalization of an agreement that will see the largest land transfer in the history of Canada. Two million square kilometers of land and waters will be transfered from the government of Canada to the government of Nunavut.”, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. The signing of this agreement is the result of several years of negotiations that began a few years after the creation of Nunavut, on April 1, 1999.

Nunavut is the latest northern territory to sign a devolution agreement, following the Yukon in 2003 and the Northwest Territories in 2014. Why did it take Nunavut longer to sign this agreement than the other territories? This is largely due to the human resources required to ensure the transition.

Presently, some 100 federal public servants are employed in Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada for Nunavut. Under the new agreement, the jobs will eventually be transferred to the Government of Nunavut. If federal employees follow their jobs, Nunavut will have to find a way to guarantee them personal housing and offices, even though the territory is experiencing a severe housing shortage. Conversely, if federal employees, preferring to request a transfer to another department, give up their jobs, Nunavut will have to replace them. However, the region does not yet have a sufficiently qualified workforce to take over.

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), an organization representing the Inuit of Nunavut and a co-signatory to the agreement, will take on the challenge of developing this workforce while respecting Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement signed in 1993. The objective of this article is to increase the number of Inuit employed by the Government of Nunavut to a representative level. Remembering that 85% of Nunavut’s population is Inuit, Inuit public servants currently account for less than 60% of the total workforce.

Nunavut Premier P. J. Akeeagok is well aware of these challenges, but remains confident in Nunavut’s abilities. “Will it be challenging? Absolutely, We’ve always had a vision of Nunavummiut making decisions for their future.”, he told Radio-Canada on January 18.

Nunavut still has some head though, because as the agreement comes into force as soon as it is signed, the transfer of responsibilities will not officially take place until April 1, 2027. In the meantime, the Government of Nunavut will receive over C$67 million (over 61 million euros) from the federal government. This will be followed by ongoing annual funding of C$85 million (€78 million). The NTI, for its part, will receive C$1,750,000 (€1.6 million), followed by an annual payment of C$3 million (€2.7 million).

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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