Eye witness

February 5, 1999

In April Canada creates a new territory - Nunavut - to give an official and semi-autonomous home to its Inuit population.

No one disputes that it will be costly to implement the 1993 Land Claim Settlement under which the Inuit formally ceded most of their territory to Canada in exchange for billions of dollars in compensation and the creation of their own territory.

Political scientist Graham White, of the University of Toronto, says: "For the first time since the non-Inuit effectively took over their lands, the people of Nunavut will enjoy the rights that citizens in any democracy expect. The costs may be very high but most would be incurred regardless of the form of government due to the staggering expense of delivering public services in the north."

Gurston Dacks, of the University of Alberta, says: "Nunavut will be costly and may well be ineffectual. However, it may well, gradually, set Inuit society on the path of social, economic and cultural revival."

Concern has been voiced about whether the Inuit are ready to run their own territory. Professor White foresees social problems, limited economic prospects, dependence on national government for financing and uncertainties as to whether the new government will meet Inuit needs.

In public, doubts about Nunavut tend to be voiced by the opposition Reform Party of Canada, which considers that indigenous peoples should be treated on an equal basis with all Canadians.

Professor White comments: "Translation: they should be like us and any attempt to recognise and accept that they are different - and have legitimate legal and moral claims to different status - is unacceptable."

Dr Dacks adds: "I believe that the creation of Nunavut is neither a noble act of reparation nor a costly and impractical exercise in national guilt. Rather, it was a non-negotiable element of the Inuit land claim (and) the government of Canada acceded to this demand because it very much wished to obtain the legal certainty regarding issues of land ownership and the management of resources that only a settlement of the claim could provide."

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