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Nunavut, Canada's youngest territory, celebrates its 25th anniversary

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick archives The Canadian Press The population of Nunavut, made up of approximately 85% Inuit, is constantly increasing. It now has more than 40,000 people, compared to less than 30,000 in 1999. In the photo, the city of Iqaluit, the territory's capital.

Kelly Geraldine Malone – The Canadian Press in Saskatoon

March 31, 2024

  • Canada

P.J. Akeeagok was a teenager living in a small hamlet on the tip of Ellesmere Island when he eagerly watched the official birth of Nunavut.

He is now the Prime Minister of Canada's youngest territory, 25 years later.

“There was so much enthusiasm and optimism in the air,” Akeeagok recalls of the time, around April 1, 1999, when the map of Canada was redrawn to separate Nunavut from the eastern half of the Northwest Territories.

“But we didn’t really know what it was. I was young at the time, but something special was happening. »

Mr. Akeeagok lived in Grise Fiord, was a sergeant in the Junior Canadian Ranger program and dreamed of serving his community. He then thought of becoming a tanker truck driver.

“At the time, I obviously had no idea that I would one day become prime minister,” he says.

The 39-year-old says it is both an immense responsibility and a privilege to continue to guide the territory toward the vision behind the formation of Nunavut.

The creation of Nunavut, meaning “our land” in Inuktitut, was part of a land claims settlement, the first major change to the map of Canada since Newfoundland and Labrador joined Confederation in 1949. It extends from the 60th parallel to the northern coast of Ellesmere Island, approximately one-fifth of Canada's land mass.

After more than a decade of negotiations, the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act received Royal Assent in 1993. Residents celebrate Nunavut Day every month of July to mark the adoption of the law which promised a new territory and a public government.

“We are forging a new partnership, a true partnership,” then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said at a signing ceremony.

Solomon Awa remembers hunting in Pond Inlet, a small community on northern Baffin Island, when the territory came into existence six years later. Once the hunt was over, the impact of what was happening began to be felt.

A quarter of a century later, he is mayor of Iqaluit, the territorial capital. A lot has changed since then, Awa says, including rapid growth.

“It’s still growing really fast,” he said.

Nunavut's population, made up of approximately 85% Inuit, is constantly increasing. It now numbers more than 40,000 people, compared to less than 30,000 in 1999.

Opportunities and challenges ahead

Four active mines provide significant employment, and Akeeagok says they are considering exploiting other resources, including fishing.

Many other opportunities are also expected after the territory signed a historic transfer of responsibilities agreement with Ottawa earlier this year. It will transfer to the territory powers over public lands, waters and non-renewable resources.

Mr. Awa's brother, Simon, was the lead negotiator for the devolution in Nunavut. The mayor says their family faced many challenges, but their elders always instilled the wisdom that pushed many of his brothers and sisters to serve the people of the territory.

The work of Nunavut's ancestors and the progress of the past 25 years will be celebrated Monday with fireworks, entertainment and a cultural showcase. Governor General Mary Simon is expected to be present.

Mr. Akeeagok says he hopes it will inspire pride in young Nunavummiut.

“They are the ones who will advance our territory. »

This future is not without challenges. Both leaders say they see a housing crisis in the territory.

There have long been problems of housing overcrowding in the area, which have worsened with population growth and the arrival of workers for jobs. Inadequate housing is also linked to other problems such as poor academic performance and health problems, including increased risk of suicide.

“When you live in overcrowded housing, it really impacts you,” says Akeeagok. So we've really dedicated our biggest investments to housing. »

As the young territory marks this milestone, Mr. Akeeagok is confident that Nunavut's determination and spirit will ensure things continue to improve.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116