This Nunavut Day more people than ever will be able to take the day off work and celebrate the birth of the territory thanks to a new order from the Government of Nunavut to expand the holiday to include some private sector workers.
Despite all the barbecues and festivities, not everyone will be fondly reminiscing about the territory’s past. However, there is much that Nunavummiut have to be proud of over the past 21 years.
The signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement signified the largest land claim in Canadian history and enshrined hunting, land management and self-governance rights for Inuit.
In recent years, a lot of effort has been put into expanding cultural programs to preserve Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, although there are still large gaps in the GN’s ability to deliver Inuktut in schools. Education Minister David Joanasie predicted last year that goal could be reached by 2039, a distant target.
Regardless of not being able to reach this landmark objective set out in the Nunavut agreement, more and more cultural camps for students are sprouting up across the territory, from Cambridge Bay to Iqaluit to Rankin Inlet. This enables Elders to pass on their knowledge and skills to an eager young population – and they will be the ones to inherit the land. This youthful generation will be charged with keeping Inuit practices alive as well as leading Nunavut into a prosperous future.
There is no better example of this kind of leadership than Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Nunavut’s recently elected member of Parliament. The people put their faith in the young leader to represent one of the fastest growing regions in Canada. At the time of election, Qaqqaq was 25, roughly equal to the average age in the territory.
She has been very vocal in the House of Commons, upholding the human rights of Nunavummiut, including access to housing, proper health care and programs to deal with long-standing social issues.
Canada just celebrated its 153rd birthday, but is still moving towards recognizing injustices of the past.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an historic apology in March 2019 for the federal government’s mishandling of the tuberculosis outbreak of the mid-20th century. Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, followed in August with a mea culpa for colonial actions taken in the same period, including the slaughter of Inuit sled dogs.
These are signs of progress, but the words and actions do not come close to what is needed to uplift Canada’s Inuit into true equality.
As Covid-19 has battered the global economy and changed all of our perspectives, Nunavummiut have shown the world that prudent decision making, caring for one’s community and possessing a generous spirit is what it takes to keep each other safe.
This Nunavut Day represents another step forward towards the goals entrenched in the Nunavut Agreement. While a long journey still lies ahead, we ought to spend this day rejoicing the history and tradition that has been preserved along with the numerous accomplishments of the past two decades.