This document may not be copied. It is published in Visions of the Heart: Aboriginal Issues in Canada. Ed. D. Long and O.P. Dickason. Toronto: HarcourtBrace. 1999.

 ™ go to the Alberta Metis Settlements prototype database




The cases of Nunavut and the Alberta Métis Settlements





Denis Wall, Ph.D.




September, 1998


From the moment of organized European appearances in North America, negotiation has been a central characteristic of relationships between aboriginal residents and newcomers. It is a characteristic that has been evident in treaty-making throughout Canada for more than three hundred years and it continues to be the order of the day in modern treaties, claims and agreements being negotiated with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis across in Canada. 1

          One of the central issues in the negotiations over the past three decades has been the question of aboriginal self-government, which has taken second place only to comprehensive land claims negotiations in areas where no treaties have been signed to date.


Numerous federal reports have stated that hope of a renewed relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in Canada lies in aboriginal self-government (e.g., Canada, 1984; INAC, 1997; RCAP, 1996).

The contemporary ideal of aboriginal self-government has been described by many as parity between aboriginal, provincial and federal powers, a far cry from the kinds of colonial controls governments have exhibited.2 The usual sentiment is that colonial controls and the resulting abuse governments have heaped on aboriginal people for more than a century must be rejected. The movement toward aboriginal self-government is intended to provide greater aboriginal autonomy in relation to financial and legislative authority.

Self-government also is not necessarily represented by universally criteria. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples has said "It lies with each group to determine the character and timing of any moves to enhance its own autonomy." (RCAP, 1993: 41)

          Perhaps the more commonly held vision of self-government is described by Geoffrey York (1989:269) who puts great store in more involvement by aboriginal peoples in decision-making processes that affect them:

"Cultural revival among aboriginal people is just one step toward regaining what has been lost. Self-government is the other key to the future of native people. When they are permitted to gain influence over the central institutions in their communities - the schools, the justice system, the child welfare system - Indian and Métis people have already demonstrated that they can repair the damage caused by centuries of racism and neglect."

Today federal and provincial government approaches attempt to find ways for aboriginal peoples to have more involvement in decisions that affect their destinies, involvement that is usually subservient, however, to current provincial and federal authorities.

Among academics, political leaders, and government representatives differences of opinion and concern abound: differences about the most beneficial structure of self-government, about who controls what, about when self-government should be implemented, about whether or not a true form self-government can ever be achieved.

Those who are critical of current forms of aboriginal self-government view them as little more than convenient arrangements that allow aboriginal people administrative responsibility for services which are ultimately controlled by the federal or provincial government.3 They argue that self-government is essentially glorified municipal government; arrangements which are far from the ideal of a third level of government equal in legislative and financial authority to the federal and provincial governments.4

          Self-government proposals also have their critics among the very people for whom it is intended. For example, Inuit women have objected to many parts of the Nunavut agreement mainly because of concerns about an emphasis on conventional southern Canadian notions of resource management. They also had concerns and about an emphasis on the economic, social and political roles and issues for men at the expense of those of women in Nunavut (Inuit Women‰s Association, 1993). In Alberta, the Métis of the Paddle Prairie Settlement in Northern Alberta managed to threaten the negotiation of governance restructuring. On November 14, 1989, the Paddle Prairie Settlement Council, whose land was among the most oil rich of all the Settlements, indicated it would leave the negotiation. This was because the Council felt, among other things, that land ownership should remain with individual Settlements and not, as was indicated in the agreement, with a General Council which would administer all eight Settlements (Windspeaker, 1989).

          I would like to look briefly at the Alberta Métis Settlements Accords and agreements of the late 1980s and then turn to Nunavut. Although there are differences between these two contemporary forms of self-government the similarities between them are striking. Both sets of negotiation with government began in the mid-1970s and ended in the early 1990s. The new governance structures of the Settlements and the Nunavut government are circumscribed by more than one piece of legislation. Both sets of negotiation used referenda to seek the approval of residents of the area. Both agreements are being implemented using transition commissions. Both agreements involved the distribution of financial compensation over extended periods of time. Both set aside aboriginal owned lands, which are constitutionally protected. Both agreements were negotiated under the threat of legal action. Both claims were for outright land and resource ownership, and demanded compensation for loss of land and resource revenues.

One major difference between these two forms of aboriginal self-government is that the Alberta Métis Settlements Councils are clear examples of ethnic governments that are elected and operated by members of a particular ethnic group. Nunavut, on the other hand, is an example of a public government in which anyone who meets residence requirements, regardless of ethnicity, can participate in the election of the government.


The Métis Settlements Accord led to Royal Assent of 4 pieces of Alberta legislation in November, 1990. These established land ownership rights (fee simple ownership of 1.28 million acres) and a reorganized form of governance for the Métis of the eight Alberta Settlements. The Alberta government agreed to pay $310 Million over 17 years. A Transition Commission, membership tribunal, a revenue trust fund, and other working groups, with provincial government and Settlement representatives, were established to assist in implementation and maintenance.5

The final agreements were driven by land claims disputes of the 1970s. During this time the Federation of Métis Settlements sued the provincial government for misappropriated resource revenues. After the implementation of the agreements the suit was "stayed" and will not be reactivated unless there are significant changes to the agreements that negatively affect Métis land ownership.

The Management Model

          The management model used to structure the renewed form of Métis Settlement governance fits well with contemporary government management rhetoric the central features of which are accountability, responsiveness, co-operative management, local responsibility, flexibility, self-reliance, cost effectiveness and efficiency. These features are described in the book Reinventing Government by Osborne and Gaebler (1992).6

Peter Lougheed, the Alberta Premier who began these negotiations to restructure the relationship between the province and one group of Métis in Alberta, wanted a made-in-Alberta solution to aboriginal self-reliance.7 "Resolution 18", which Lougheed introduced in the provincial legislature in 1982, was a commitment made by the government that led to the Métis Settlements Accord.8

          Currently, the Métis in Alberta operate their Settlements much like

municipal governments: a General Council is responsible for eight Settlements, each of which has its own local council. As with municipal councils, the Métis Settlements are ultimately responsible to a Minister of the Crown. The very basic advisory role for the Métis suggested in the 1936 Ewing Commission Report has evolved into municipal style governance today, although the responsibility of the provincial Minister has not changed.9

          There are some who argue that the current relationship between the Alberta government and the Métis Settlements has changed fundamentally from pre-1990 relations and is as close to the ideal of self-government as can be expected. Bell (1994:83) seems to feel this way with her insistence that: "The Métis settlements legislation represents a significant accomplishment in the resolution of historical grievances... ." Recent changes to the legislative regime have set the stage for structural changes within the Settlements, which in turn may result in more participation in decision-making by Settlement residents. The Aboriginal Affairs Branch of the provincial government and the Settlements now are working more closely together than ever before: both are represented on the Transition Commission, on the membership tribunal and elsewhere. Thus, there continues to be significant opportunity for provincial involvement and influence in the running of the Métis Settlements.

          In the final analysis, financing of the settlements (housing, roads, social services, job training and so on) is still very much dependent on the provincial government; as well, the development and implementation of legislation that restructured land ownership and governance have been dependent on the goodwill of government.

Some significant changes in the relationship from the pre-1990 period have taken place: land ownership has been secured, revenue sources have been adjusted, and decision-making involvement has been refined, clarified and expanded at the Settlement level.


          With the introduction of land claims policies of the Federal government and the Trudeau government acceptance of the notions of aboriginal rights, following the Nisga‰a Case of 1973, Canadian comprehensive land claims began in earnest.10 Since then, specific and comprehensive claims have piled up on the federal doorstep by the hundreds. One of these claims was the 1976 Inuit claim over eastern Arctic lands. That claim‰s settlement resulted in Nunavut, Canada's third Territory stretching from Hudson Bay to the northernmost parts of Ellesmere Island. Under the terms of the settlement, the government of Nunavut will have powers like those of other Territorial governments, established and maintained in the context of a very close working relationship with the Federal government in Ottawa.

(see the adjacent map on page ?).

          The signing of the Nunavut agreement took place on May 25, 1993 and The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act S.C. 1993, c. 29 was given Royal Assent on June 10, 1993.11 This agreement not only settled the comprehensive land claim to the eastern Arctic but enabled the establishment of the new territory of Nunavut as well. A separate political accord establishes the actual Territory of Nunavut that, as mentioned earlier, has a public government (as different from an ethnic, exclusively Inuit government).

          "The concept of Nunavut has been part and parcel of the Inuit land claim ever since they first put (it) forward... ." notes Donald Purich (1992:9). He goes on to say that since 1976 "the Inuit position has always been that before they sign(ed) a land claims agreement they must have a guarantee that Nunavut ... be created."

          The creation of the government of Nunavut and the land claims settlement associated with it are the result of the largest of Canada‰s modern treaties. After public referenda supported the establishment of Nunavut, the federal government agreed to a compensation package of $1.14 Billion to be paid out over 14 years, as well as Inuit ownership of approximately 350,000 square kilometres of land, 36,000 square kilometres of which include mineral rights.

          The RCAP (1996) states: "Article 19 of the agreement lays out Inuit rights to land within the new public territory. ... Inuit-owned lands will take one of two forms: fee simple including surface and subsurface rights, and fee simple excluding surface and subsurface rights. ... Title will be owned collectively and vested in a designated Inuit organization (DIO), which is either Tungavik or a designated regional Inuit organization. Inuit title can be transferred only to another DIO, or in the case of land within a municipality, to Canada, the territorial government or a municipal corporation."

          The settlement stipulates that Inuit (Nunavut Tungavik, Inc.) will participate with the federal government in controlling land-use planning, wildlife harvesting, off-shore resources and environmental protection.

          Nunavut does represent a unique form of aboriginal self-government. Titus Allooloo a member of the NWT Legislative Assembly said on October 31, 1989: "We dream of making laws and policies which truly reflect the needs and conditions of Nunavut Territory ..." and, of course, the Inuit. There is at least one major contradiction contained this ideal state: even though Nunavut has a public government, it is seen by many, Inuit and commentators such as Purich (1993) alike, as the "homeland" of the Inuit - a very ethnic notion.


          There are a number of the other problems associated with the development of the land claim treaty and Nunavut developed. One problem which has been a sticking point during negotiations of this and other land claims is the demand by the federal government that aboriginal (Inuit, in this case) title to the land be extinguished in return for a signed treaty and compensation. The concern of aboriginal groups is that those who sign modern treaties may be giving up more than they bargained for by relinquishing their aboriginal title to the land, title that obtains as a result of historical use and occupancy.

          A second problem is that the Inuit claim area appeared to encroach on the Quebec and Labrador land claims of the Innu and the Inuit as well as on the Dene-Métis claims in the NWT. Overlapping claims are nothing new, however, and were clearly not reason enough to deny settlement.12 At the time of writing these were continuing to be discussed and negotiated.

          A third problem is that the public government of Nunavut will represent all Nunavut voters and residents, not only the Inuit. The concern raised by Dacks (1986) is that as the non-Inuit population increases Inuit influence likely will be reduced. There are some minor safeguards to protect Inuit influence within the government of Nunavut: Inuktitut will be an official language of government, and the agreement demands proportional representation of staff in government departments.

          A fourth potential problem is the fragmentation of the aboriginal voice in the north, a consequence of the separation of Nunavut from NWT. However, aboriginal groups have not necessarily spoken with a single united voice in the past and it is possible that Nunavut could strengthen the Inuit voice by giving it the support of a territorial government.

          There is also the question of Nunavut government authority over lands and resources. Ownership of Nunavut lands and resources does not necessarily lie with the Nunavut government but is in the hands of the Nunavut Tungavik Inc. (Inuit owned lands at 18 percent) and the federal government (Crown lands at 82 percent). As a result, co-management boards, which represent the corporate perspectives of the Nunavut Tungavik Inc. and the federal government, are responsible for land management and development. Conflicts are very likely to occur when co-management board decisions are not in line with those of the Nunavut government, which represents a different constituency: individual Inuit and non-Inuit residents.

          Another issue is whether the Inuit are properly prepared to take control of government decision-making roles. In order to address this concern, the Nunavut Unified Human Resources Development Strategy, part of the Nunavut implementation plan, has attempted to design policy and strategy to build Inuit management capacity, that is, to train Inuit for the management and administrative roles in the government of Nunavut and in Inuit organizations.

          The Inuit Women‰s Association (Inuit Women‰s Association, 1993) in particular has suggested that the economic development model promoted in the agreements is more in tune with conventional southern approaches to the exploitation of non-renewable resources and, consequently, Inuit benefits may be limited. For example, women's work may not be recognized or compensated, as is that of men. Also, there appears to be no guarantee that women will receive equal representation on boards or commissions and, as a result, there may be no guarantee the government of Nunavut will represent Inuit women's perspectives on social, political, economic, community, family or cultural development. Although there may well be income support programs for men whose livelihood, hunting, is interrupted, the Inuit Women‰s Association has stated that no such programs for the interruption of women's labour in the harvest are expected.

          Finally, there are concerns that the Territorial status of Nunavut leaves much to be desired in relation to the question of the autonomy of the government of Nunavut. Indeed, many questions and concerns may be raised about the strong influence of the federal government through its involvement in co-management boards, land ownership and financial compensation.

          Whether these and other concerns can be satisfactorily addressed will take time, patience and clear, objective analysis. Resolutions to issues will require also the political goodwill of both Inuit leaders and the federal government in the years ahead.



          Nunavut is a political fact but its essence, which involves the complex set of relationships between the people of Nunavut and the federal government, continues to evolve. The Nunavut development timeline at the end of the chapter illustrates the long history of relations between the NWT, the Inuit and the federal government, and suggests that these relationships will continue, develop and change over time.

          Relationships between aboriginal peoples around the world and the

governments that administer their affairs are often characterized as "internal colonial" and highly problematic. Some co-incident central elements of these difficult relationships are:

1.     One ethnic group or coalition rules the affairs of others living within the state,

2.     Territorial separation of the subordinate ethnic groups in 'homelands', 'native reserves', and the like,

3.     Land tenure rights different from those of members of the dominant group,

4.     An internal government within a government especially created to rule the subject groups,

5.     Unique legal status in which the subject group and its members are considered to have a corporate status that takes precedence over their individual status. Members of the ruling ethnic groups are considered individuals in the eyes of the state,

6.     "Relations of economic inequality in which subject peoples are relegated to positions of dependency and inferiority in the division of labour and the relations of production."13

          The question then is this: Has the treaty between the federal government of Canada and the Inuit substantially altered their historical association?

          Taking guidance from the points above to analyze the association between the federal government and the Inuit, the first indicator of contemporary relations is that while the Inuit have negotiated willingly with the federal government, that negotiation has occurred within a context defined by the federal government and the courts. This fact represents significant control by a "coalition of ethnic groups" (non-Inuit) over a subordinate group (Inuit) and suggests that internal colonialism may continue to exist. Alone, this fact is not a powerful indicator of a state of "internal colonialism" for the Inuit of Nunavut; however, when it is combined with the other indicators discussed immediately below, it can be a strong supporting statement about the existence of a colonial relation.

          A second key element of the contemporary relationship is that Inuit lands are segregated from those of the dominant group and they are indeed considered "homelands." This according to the criteria listed above is another indicator of a colonial relationship.

          A third part of the relationship is that Inuit land ownership remains different from the land tenure rights of other Canadians. Instead of land being held in trust by the federal government as it has for First Nations, land is owned outright by the Inuit collectively - not individually. That is, fee simple ownership of land vests with corporations in the name of the Inuit. Land can also be expropriated by appropriate authorities, after negotiation, and compensation. In this respect, at least, land tenure is somewhat similar to that of other corporations.

          The different treatment of aboriginal peoples in Canada regarding their collective land tenure rights may not be a negative situation when considered on its own. Supernault (1988) and others have suggested that aboriginal people prefer to be treated collectively rather that individually since the group is paramount to aboriginal identity.

          On the one hand, while this may appear to be reason enough for the different treatment of aboriginal peoples, it can be argued that such treatment is another essential part of a colonial relationship.

          On the other hand, collective ownership of land and resources may be beginning to provide considerable economic clout for aboriginal corporate bodies. In this sense, collective aboriginal ownership of land could be providing considerable economic benefit.14 In the meantime, there are those who nonetheless continue to see little economic benefit coming their way.

          A fourth concern about the relationship between the Inuit and the federal government is that there is at least one government within a government for the Inuit. The government of Nunavut and INAC will mediate Inuit relations with the federal government which is the final arbiter in a legislative sense. The federal government is also the major financial contributor to the government of Nunavut although there will be funds going directly to Inuit organizations from resource revenues and other forms of economic development.

          The final element of the relationship is that as a result of the historical relationship between the Inuit and Canada, Inuit remain among the poorest of Canadians. There remains the hope that the new relationship will alter this situation substantially but little change has taken place thus far. Here we see clearly that there are "Relations of economic inequality in which subject peoples (the Inuit in this case) are relegated to positions of dependency and inferiority." As the last element of an internal colonial relationship, this fact is another strong indicator of the existence of a potential colonial relationship between the Inuit and the federal government.

          In summary, the contemporary relationship between the federal government and the Inuit of Nunavut matches fairly closely the central elements of a highly problematic internal colonial situation:

1.     In Canada, one coalition of ethnic groups (non-Inuit) has considerable influence over the affairs of the Inuit.

2.     There is the territorial separation of the Inuit in 'homelands'.

3.     Land tenure rights different from those of members of the dominant group.

4.     There are internal governments within a government especially created to deal with Inuit: Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada and the government of Nunavut mediate relations between Inuit and the federal government.

5.     There is a unique legal status in which Inuit are considered to have a corporate status that takes precedence over their individual status. Members of the ruling ethnic groups are considered individuals in the eyes of the state.

6.     And finally, there exist relations of economic inequality in which Inuit are relegated to positions of dependency and inferiority.

          In the final analysis both the Nunavut government and Inuit organizations are in the position of having to defer to federal influences because the federal government is supported by legislation and its financial. Changes have been made to the relationship between the Inuit and Canada. Land ownership is more certain, decision-making influence may have increased, but it remains to be seen whether or not these changes are substantial and lead to a significant reversal of the historical internal colonial relationship.


          Legare (1996:160) puts one element of the federal government's influence over Inuit decision-making this way:

"According to section 5.3 of the agreement, only the governor-in-council or the Minister of DIAND could veto decisions coming from co-management boards. But they could do so only if a regulation put forward by a public board contradicts some of the articles contained in the final land claims agreement. Thus, the Minister's veto is highly unlikely because he would then contradict the decisions of its own board-member representatives and would politically antagonize the Inuit."

          Even with recent changes to administrative and legal frameworks, aboriginal peoples in Canada continue to live in closely watched (supervised) relationships with federal and provincial governments. The locus of authority to implement the legal regimes necessary for these forms of aboriginal self-government continue to rest in the hands of the federal and provincial governments. In most situations where aboriginal self-government is being implemented, federal and provincial governments continue to exert strong influences and can constrain aboriginal decision-making through legislative and economic means. However, it is important to note that within the constraining financial and legal boundaries set by the federal and provincial governments, in domains such as human resources policy, education policy or social policy, aboriginal decision-making may be relatively unencumbered.

          The main question addressed in this chapter is whether the recent implementation of aboriginal self-government involving the Métis of Alberta and the Inuit of Nunavut, represents a fundamentally different relationship between aboriginal peoples and the federal and provincial governments. We can see the governance structures for the Métis Settlements in Alberta are not really new. They are old structures infused with contemporary management notions and practices.

          Although there are some important differences in the structure and process of aboriginal self-government evident in the establishment of Nunavut, it nonetheless appears that the recent changes in the relationship between the federal government and the Inuit have not been substantial: many elements of that historical and problematic relationship are still evident.


adapted in part from Simpson et al. (1994: pp7-19)


1875 The Northwest Territories Act passed.

1875 The District of Keewatin established.

1877 District of Keewatin reduced in size because of Manitoba's expansion.

1898 Yukon Territory Act.

1905 Provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan established on September 1, 1905.

1905 Northwest Territories Act amended to provide for appointment of a Commissioner and Council of not more than four.

1912 Boundaries of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec extended north.

1921 NWT Council enlarged to six members.

1922 Indian Act changed to include administration of Inuit.

1951 NWT Council enlarged to eight: three members elected from constituencies in the District of Mackenzie and at least one yearly session to be held in the NWT.

1951 A new Indian Act passed protecting Indian lands from alienation, and Indian property from depredation, as well as providing for a form of local government.

1960 Aboriginal people given the right to vote in federal elections.

September 27, 1962 Conservative government Throne Speech indicates intent to introduce greater self-government and, eventually, new provinces in the north.

May 21, 1963 Liberal government introduces legislation (never implemented) proposing the division of the NWT into the Mackenzie and Nunatsiaq Territories.

1963 Full-time Commissioner of NWT appointed.

June 3, 1965 A.W.R. Carrothers heads federal advisory Commission on the Development of the Northwest Territories" (Carrothers Commission).

August 30, 1966 Carrothers Commission advises against partition of the NWT for 10 years. Two federal constituencies created.

1967 NWT Council moves from Ottawa to Yellowknife.

1969 Nisga‰a of British Columbia go to court for a declaration of their title to land.

1969 Federal government White Paper on Indian Policy, "At Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy," recommends repeal of Indian Act and abolition of all legal distinctions between native and non-natives.

December 1969 Indian Claims Commissioner appointed to receive and study Indian grievances and claims, and recommend measures to resolve them.

September 25, 1970 The Committee for Original Peoples' Entitlement (COPE) incorporated.

1970 India Brotherhood of the NWT established to deal with concerns about Treaties 8 and 11.

August 1971 The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) established.

1972 The Métis and Non-Status Native Association of the NWT incorporated.

1972 ITC (Inuit Tapirisat of Canada) conference confirms land claims as priority.

1973 Nisga‰a case (Calder v. Attorney-General of B.C.) decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, and later the federal government reversed its position on aboriginal title.

1973 The federal government agrees to negotiate Yukon Native Indian Brotherhood land claim proposal (Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow).

1974 The Office of Native claims established within the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DIAND) to evaluate and negotiate comprehensive and specific Indian land claims.

1974 Milton Freeman's "Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Project" identifies boundaries of Inuit land use in Kitikmeot, Keewatin, and Baffin. Adopted in 1979 as Nunavut boundaries.

1975 The first fully-elected NWT Assembly.

November 1975 Inuit Tapirisat of Canada authorized by voting delegates to begin land claims negotiations.

1975.              The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement signed between the Grand Council of the Crees, Northern Quebec Inuit Association and the Government of Quebec, the James Bay Energy Corporation, the James Bay Development Corporation, the Quebec Hydro-Electric Commission (Hydro-Quebec) and the Government of Canada. It was the first modern treaty, comprehensive claim, between the Canada and aboriginal peoples.

February 27, 1976 Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) proposes division of the NWT and creation of a new territory Nunavut (Our Land). The Nunavut proposal included the Inuvialuit.

1976 Inuvialuit split from ITC to settle their claim independently.

1976 The Special Electoral boundaries Commission recommends division of the NWT into two electoral districts: Nunatsiaq and the Western Arctic.

1977 The Committee for Original Peoples' Entitlement (COPE) presents "Inuvialuit Nunangat" proposal for an agreement-in-principle.

August 3, 1977 C.M. Drury appointed by the federal government to report on constitutional development in the NWT.

December 14, 1977 NWT Inuit Land Claims Commission puts forward a proposal calling for new Territory: "Proposal: Agreement-in-principle for the Establishment of Inuit Rights Between the Inuit of Nunavut and the Government of Canada."

October 31 1978 COPE signs the "Inuvialuit Land Rights Settlement Agreement-in-principle" with the federal government.

1979 NWT divided into two federal electoral districts: Nunatsiaq and the Western Arctic.

September 1979 Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) Annual General Assembly in Igloolik releases a paper entitled "Political Development in Nunavut", calling for the division of the NWT within ten years and provincehood for the Nunavut Territory within fifteen years.

January 1980 the Drury Report (Report of the Special Representative on Constitutional Development in the Northwest Territories), recommends that the NWT remain a single political unit, and that residents be responsible for political change.

July 1980 Federal government withdrew indefinitely from negotiations, unable to deal with Inuit notions of political sovereignty.

August 1980 Negotiations resume.

October 1980 Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) resolution calling for the creation of Nunavut.

May 1981 the NWT Legislative Assembly approves plebiscite on the creation of Nunavut.

November 1981 the NWT Legislative Assembly adopts plebiscite ordinance.

February 1982 Several members of the Legislative Assembly, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), the Dene Nation, the Métis Nation of the NWT, and the Committee For Original Peoples' Entitlement (COPE) united to form the Constitutional Alliance (CA).

April 14, 1982 Plebiscite held on the question "Do you think the Northwest Territories should be divided? YES or NO": division supported.

April 17, 1982 Constitution Act, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, signed.

July 1982 Constitutional Alliance (CA) divides into two sub-committees to pursue division of NWT: the Western Constitutional Forum (WCF) and the Nunavut Constitutional Forum (NCF).

November 26, 1982 Minister of DIAND states government intention to support division of NWT in principle.

1982 The Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) established as a political arm of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) to negotiate land claims.

1982 The Nunavut Constitutional Forum (NCF) publishes "Nunavut" and "Building Nunavut".

January 1984 the Council of Yukon Indians signs an agreement-in-principle to settle their land claims with the federal government.

1984 TFN and COPE sign boundary and overlap agreement.

June 5, 1984 (Inuvialuit) Western Arctic Claim signed. This is the first modern treaty or comprehensive land claims settlement north of the 60th parallel in Canada.

1985 Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, David Crombie, the federal government is willing to support division of the NWT with finalization of a boundary for division.

1985 Federal task force reviewing comprehensive claims policy issued its report "Living Treaties: Lasting Agreements": the Coolican Report.

1986 The Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) and the Dene/Métis sign a boundary and overlap agreement that establishes a boundary through the Kitikmeot and Keewatin.

1987 The federal government issues "Comprehensive Land Claims Policy" which modified policy by allowing federal officials to consider specific options or alternatives in a claims settlement which did not formally extinguish aboriginal title.

March 12 1987 "Boundary and Constitutional Agreement for the Implementation of Division of the NWT between the Western Constitutional Forum and the Nunavut Constitutional Forum" is approved by the NWT Legislative Assembly. It recommends a plebiscite on the proposed boundary.

1987 The Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) and the Dene/Métis are unable to agree on 1986 boundary and overlap agreement, resulting in the collapse of the Iqaluit Agreement and the cancellation of the upcoming plebiscite.

1988 DIAND releases "A Northern Political and Economic Framework," which supports establishing northern government, settling land claims and promoting economic development.

December 7-8, 1989 Federal government and TFN agreement on final elements of agreement-in-principle on Nunavut land claim.

March 31, 1990 "Comprehensive Land Claim Umbrella Final Agreement between the Government of Canada, the Council for Yukon Indians and the Government of the Yukon" initialed.

April 30 1990 Agreement-in-principle between the Inuit (Tungavik Federation of Nunavut - TFN) and the federal government signed.

July 1990 Dene/Métis of the NWT reject comprehensive land claim settlement with the federal government because of concern about surrendering their aboriginal rights.

October 19, 1990 GNWT and TFN sign agreement-in-principle regarding division.

April 1991 Former NWT Commissioner John Parker appointed as an advisor to resolve the boundary dispute between the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) and Dene/Métis of the NWT. "The Parker Line" is established as the boundary of Nunavut.

July 1991 The Gwich‰in (Kutchin) of the Mackenzie delta reach a land claims settlement with the federal government based on April 1990 agreement rejected by NWT Dene/Métis.

December 7 1991 Council of Yukon Indians accepts the final land claims agreement.

December 16 1991 Indian Affairs Minister announces a final agreement with the Inuit (TFN) on land claim and agree to negotiate a political accord.

January 1992 Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) accepts the land claims agreement "Agreement Between the Inuit of the Nunavut Settlement Area and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada" and passes a resolution recommending that Inuit ratify agreement.

January 31, 1992 Plebiscite question announced at the Nunavut Leaders' summit in Iqaluit.

February 17, 1992 NWT Legislative Assembly writes to the Chief Plebiscite Officer that May 4, 1992 is the date for a plebiscite on the boundary between NWT and Nunavut.

April 22, 1992 the Gwich‰in final comprehensive land claim agreement signed.

April 27, 1992 Nunavut Political Accord committed the federal and NWT governments to negotiate with the Inuit legislation to create Nunavut government.

May 4, 1992 NWT-Nunavut boundary plebiscite held and approval received.

October 1992 Nunavut Political Accord signed by TFN, federal and territorial governments. Ensures Nunavut government will be a reality by April 1999.

November 3-6, 1992 Inuit of the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) approves the Nunavut land claims agreement and authorizes its signing.

March 15, 1993 The Nunavut Tungavik Inc. (NTI) to help direct the transition to Nunavut.

May 25, 1993 In Iqaluit, NWT, the final "Agreement Between the Inuit of the Nunavut Settlement Area and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada" signed.

June 10, 1993 The Nunavut Land Claims Act is given Royal Assent. Nunavut Implementation Commission instituted.

July 9, 1993 The Nunavut land claims settlement becomes law.

December 11, 1995 Plebiscite held on capital of Nunavut. Iqaluit receives 60.2 percent of vote.

April 30, 1996 Iqaluit officially declared the future capital of Nunavut.

April 1, 1999 Nunavut born with elected Legislative Assembly, a Cabinet, a territorial court and public service.




1. For many years the Federal Government has been directly involved in the political development of the NWT. What five Key events do you think may have been most critical?

2. Do you agree that the financial and political (legislative) influences exerted by the Federal Government are critical to aboriginal self-government?

3. In what ways are the models of self-government, as formulated for Nunavut and the Metis Settlements in Alberta, similar and different?



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Dacks, G. "The Case Against Dividing the Northwest Territories." Canadian Public Policy, 12(1), 1986, 202-213.

Ewing, A. F. "Commission Report - to the Lieutenant Governor in Council, Edmonton." Edmonton: Government of Alberta, February 15, 1936.

Haysom, V. "The struggle for recognition: Labrador Inuit negotiations for land rights and self-government." Etudes/Inuit/Studies, 16(1-2), 1992, 179-197.

INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada). Gathering Strength Gathering strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan. Ottawa: Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1997.

Inuit Women‰s Association. A response to the articles of the Nunavut Proposal. Copy Faxed: 10-27-93.

Légaré, A. "The Process Leading to a Land Claims Agreement and Its Implementation: The Case of the Nunavut Land Claims Settlement." The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, XVI (1), 1996, 139-163.

Osborn D., and Ted Gaebler. Reinventing Government: how the entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the public sector. Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1992.

Pelly, D. "Dawn of Nunavut." Canadian Geographic, March/April. 1993, 20-29.

Purich, D. The Inuit and their Land. The Story of Nunavut. Toronto: James Lorimer, 1992.

RCAP (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples). Partners in Confederation: Aboriginal Peoples, Self-government, and the Constitution. Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services, Canada. 1993.

RCAP (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples). Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Ottawa: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. 1996.

Simpson, E., L. N. Seale, R. Minion. Nunavut: An annotated Bibliography. Edmonton: Canadian Circumpolar Institute and the University of Alberta Library. 1994.

Supernault, C. "Helping Communities Move Toward Local Self-Government." A paper presented to the native education conference "Our People, Our Struggle, Our Spirit." November 1-3, 1988. Edmonton, Alberta.

Sustainable Development Research Group. "Coping With the Cash: a financial review of four northern land claims settlements with a view to maximizing economic opportunities from the next generation of claim settlements in the Northwest Territories." Calgary: Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary. 1989.

Van den Berghe, P. "Education, Class and Ethnicity inSouthern Peru: Revolutionary Colonialism," in Education and Colonialism byP. Altbach and G. Kelly. New York:Longman, 1984, vol. 2.

Windspeaker. "Paddle Prairie pulls out of Federation: disagreement over self-government bills prompts move." Windspeaker, V7, Nov. 24, 1989. P.1-2.

Wotherspoon, T and V. Satzewich. First Nations Race, Class, and Gender Relations. Scarborough: Nelson Canada. 1993.

York, G. The Dispossessed: Life and Death in Native Canada. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Ltd. 1989.


1 Here we can include the early Treaties of Peace and Friendship on the east coast of North America; the Treaties in Ontario in the 1700's and 1800's; the Numbered Western Treaties; the Modern Treaties and agreements, for example, with the Cree and Inuit in Quebec (1975), with the Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic (1984), with the Eastern Arctic Inuit (Tungavik Federation of Nunavut - TFN - 1993), or with the Metis of Alberta starting in the 1930‰s and continuing today.

2 See Section 35 (2) of the Charter of Rights in Constitution Act, 1982, which identifies the aboriginal people of Canada as Indians, Inuit, and Metis. It is not surprising to find all three groups arguing for similar levels of parity with regard to executive and legislative authority.

3 Wotherspoon et. al. (1993:235) go so far as to suggest that there are only two actual examples of First Nations‰ "self-government": the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act of 1984 and the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act of 1986.

4 In a similarly skeptical vein, Haysom (1992:194) is cautious about whether an agreement between the Labrador Inuit Association and the Newfoundland and Federal Governments will support self-government, since he argues that: "... liberal principles require strong and distinct communities but simultaneously undermine them."

5 These include the package of legislation related to the Metis Settlements: The Metis Settlements Land Protection Act c.M-14.8, S.A. 1990; The Metis Settlements Act c.M-14.3, S.A. 1990; The Metis Settlement Accord Implementation Act Alberta c.M-14.5, S.A. 1990.

6 These management notions are remarkably similar to those used by the Ewing Commission (Ewing, 1936:9) and those articulated in the Royal Commission document "Partners in Confederation" (RCAP, 1993: 41).

7 Over the years the Metis in Alberta have forged significant relations with the Alberta government, with the province showing a great willingness to deal with the Metis. For example, it was at the request of Metis leaders that the Ewing Commission (1936) was established. The Commission described the extremely poor living conditions of the Metis and recommended the formation of farm colonies, precursors to the current Metis Settlements. Today the settlements are the only reasonably stable landbase in Canada for people of Metis heritage.

8 Alberta Premier Don Getty's agreement in 1987 to work with the Metis Nation of Alberta Association led to the implementation of the first of a series of Metis Nation Framework Agreements in 1988.

9 "The final control of these colonies must continue to rest with the Department concerned. The management will be carried out under such superintendents or instructors as may be necessary. As matters develop it may be thought wise to provide for a council to be elected by the members of the colony and to be invested with advisory powers only." (Ewing, 1936:12)

10 See Fleras' chapter for a more extensive discussion of the impact of the Nisga‰a case on Trudeau's perspective and the subsequent change in negotiation strategies by the Federal government.

11 Pelly (1993:21) describes the basic land claim settlement as follows:

The land claim settlement gives the Inuit outright ownership of about 18 percent of the land - 353,610 square kilometres, including 36,257 square kilometres of sub surface mineral rights. The remaining 82 percent of Nunavut remains Crown land, ... . Inuit will keep the right to hunt, fish and trap throughout Nunavut. The settlement also gives the $1.15 billion, which they hope will generate economic and social revival.

12 Take for example the British Columbia claims during the late 1990s which were rumored to cover more than the available territory of BC, mainly because of such overlapping territories.

13 These points have been adapted from van den Berghe (1984: 182).

14 See, for example, the report "Coping With the Cash: a financial review of four northern land claims settlements with a view to maximizing economic opportunities from the next generation of claim settlements in the Northwest Territories" of the Sustainable Development Research Group (1989).