From it’s foundations in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Nunavut Act to it’s official separation on April 1, 1999, which brought about the largest change to Canada’s map since 1949, Nunavut has had much to celebrate over the past 22 years.
July 9 is the day the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was signed, however it wasn’t until 2020 under current Premier Joe Savikataaq’s government that it was made an official statutory holiday in the territory. Previously the stat applied only for Government of Nunavut employees.
When it comes to Nunavut Day itself, the first thing that comes to mind for the 60-year-old Premier is the fact that it exists as a fully-fledged territory.
Thinking back to before that was the case, he said “Back then we were all NWT residents with hopes and dreams of the Inuit having our own territory – and now we do,” he said.
Despite a messy start, Savikataaq says there has been a lot accomplished since the territory’s formation.
“In the early stages of Nunavut it was quite the learning curve. We went from having a brand new territory to having to run it.
“It’s not that easy to cut up a country and we peacefully and successfully carved out Nunavut from Canada,” he adds.
Having more healthcare services offered in-territory is one of those accomplishments, having to bring fewer people down south or to Yellowknife for medical appointments.
“We have two main hospitals now, one in Iqaluit and one in Rankin. The one in Iqaluit is a fully staffed hospital with surgeries,” said Savikataaq. “That’s quite an accomplishment for a territory so small (in population) that we can offer those resources in-territory.”
The Qikiqtani General Hospital in the capital, which replaced the Baffin Regional Hospital in 2007, is a particularly notable achievement given the challenges of offering healthcare in Nunavut. By 2013 the hospital was host to two operating rooms and four birthing rooms.
Issues still remain in Nunavut and much of the struggle has to do with funding, Savikataaq says.
“We knew that the federal government gave X amount of dollars to the Northwest Territories. We always knew when you split it in half, there was going to be less funding,” he said.
The funding issue is namely impacting the Nunavut housing crisis which he says is continuing to worsen.
“The biggest issue, ever since the creation of Nunavut – and it’s getting worse – is our housing crisis. We can’t just build enough houses because we don’t have the funds to do so.”
It’s also an accomplishment that nearly all MLAs representing the territory are Inuit. Savikataaq says he is dedicated to representing Inuit in the government, appointing a 100-percent Inuit cabinet to the Legislature.
“I’m always happy on Nunavut Day, it’s an accomplishment that we have our own territory,” said Savikataaq. “I’m always happy even if I’m not in amongst a crowd.”