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Inuit Vote for “Our Land”

For the week of Monday November 7, 2011

On November 12, 1992, a majority of Inuit voters said “yes” to the land settlement and the creation of Canada’s third territory: Nunavut. Many Inuit living in the Northwest Territories had hoped for and worked towards achieving a territory of their own for a long time. As far back as 1977, John Amagoalik, an active Inuit politician, introduced a proposal for a new territory. Official discussions began in 1982 and the 1992 vote was the culmination of a decade of discussion between the federal government and the residents of the Northwest Territories.

Elwin Inlet, Sirmilik National Park
© Parks Canada / R. Beardmore / 1979
This final referendum was held from November 3 to 5 and the results were not announced until one week later. Inuit residents aged 16 or older were deemed eligible voters. About 80 percent of the Inuit who were eligible to vote participated in the referendum. Those not casting ballots were counted as “No” votes. On November 12, 1992, the idea to create a new territory was accepted with 69 percent of votes in favour.

The name Nunavut means “Our Land” in the Inuit language, Inuktitut. This is a fitting name for their new territory because the Inuit now have their own form of self-government and special rights to hunt, fish, and trap in the 2.2 million square kilometres that make up its territory. The government also offered 350,000 square kilometres of land to be specifically owned by the Inuit as well as $1.15 billion to be given over 14 years. Though it may be the newest member of Canada’s Confederation, Nunavut is certainly not the smallest. Its vast landscape covers an area twice the size of the province of British Columbia!

Trinity Ridge area, South Bylot Island
© Parks Canada / L. Narraway / 2005

The Inuit vote in favour of creating a new territory marks one of many important instances of Inuit influence in Canadian history. Inuit involvement has been historically significant to the creation of Canada. For example, it was with Inuit help that explorers were able to map the Arctic and draw the northern borders of what would one day become Canada. In 1972, Arctic Exploration and Inuit Culture was designated a National Historic Event for establishing contact between explorers and Inuit.

Nunavut is also home to the beautiful Quttinirpaaq National Park and Auyuittuq National Park! For more information on the territory of Nunavut, check out the Nunavut is launched! and Roadmaps of the North archived This Week in History articles. Or learn more about Canada’s confederation as well as provinces and territories by reading the Dream of a Nation article.

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