Nunavut – September 2003

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Creation of Nunavut

On April 1, 1999, the map of Canada changed. The former Northwest Territories (NWT) was divided in two, creating a new territory called Nunavut. In the Inuit language, Inuktitut, the word "Nunavut" means "our land."

Nunavut is made up of the central and eastern parts of the former NWT. These are the traditional lands of Inuit who live in the Canadian North above the tree line–lands their ancestors lived on for thousands of years. The Nunavut population is 85 percent Inuit.

The territory fulfils a long-time dream for Inuit of the Eastern Arctic. They govern a territory of about two million square kilometres, one fifth of Canada's total land mass.

The Nunavut government is a public government, elected by all residents, Inuit and non-Inuit. But because Inuit make up the majority of the population, they can shape the government to reflect their culture, traditions and goals. The Government of Nunavut enables Inuit to assume their rightful place in Canada and take charge of their destiny.

The largest land claim settlement in Canadian history

The federal and territorial governments and Inuit in the Eastern Arctic talked about dividing the NWT for many years. In 1976, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (now known as the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami [ITK]) asked the federal government to map out a boundary between the eastern and western regions of the NWT. ITK represents Inuit across Canada. It wanted the eastern region of the NWT to be the Nunavut Territory because of Inuit land claims in that area.

After years of negotiations, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was settled in 1993. It was the largest land claim ever settled in Canadian history. The settlement gives Inuit control of more than 350,000 square kilometres of land, of which 36,000 square kilometres include mineral rights. In addition, the land claim settlement gives Inuit more than $1 billion over 14 years, and guaranteed participation in making decisions for managing lands and resources.

The land claim settlement agreement included a reference to establish a Nunavut territory "as soon as possible." The governments of Canada and the NWT and the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (which represented Nunavut Inuit during the land claim process) negotiated a political agreement. The federal government also created the Nunavut Implementation Commission to oversee the implementation of the land claim settlement and prepare for the creation of the territory.

The political agreement, signed in 1992, outlined how the Government of Nunavut would operate. It also fixed 1999 as the year the territory would become a reality. In 1993, the Parliament of Canada passed the legislation enacting both the land claim settlement and the agreement to create the territory of Nunavut. The creation of Nunavut changed the map of Canada for the first time since Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.

Taking on new challenges

The Nunavut government faces many challenges, including creating job opportunities for a large workforce of young people. About 56 percent of Nunavut's population is under the age of 25. Other challenges facing the territory are how to increase residents' income and education levels, and find ways to cope with a cost of living that is two to three times higher than that of southern Canadians.

The Government of Nunavut lets residents of the territory decide themselves how they want to meet these challenges. The government has similar powers as those of the NWT government. It has an elected legislative assembly, a cabinet and a territorial court. The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit on Baffin Island.

To respond to the needs of its 25 far-flung communities, the Nunavut government is highly decentralized. Ten of its government departments are located in 23 different communities. Up-to-date communications technology plays an important role in this decentralized government structure.

The Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (the former Tungavik Federation of Nunavut), Nunavut Arctic College, the NWT government and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) organized training programs to prepare Inuit for government and private sector jobs in the territory. These training programs focused on management, administration and support services.

Through their government, Nunavut residents are in charge of education, health, social services and many other provincial-type responsibilities. The government helps stimulate the regional economy, creating government jobs as well as spin-off jobs in the private sector.

The birth of the territory opened doors for development corporations in businesses as diverse as shrimp fishing, hotels and construction. There are also possibilities for mining copper, gold, silver, lead, zinc and diamonds. The tourism industry is also expanding, especially as three new national parks are being created in Nunavut.

Nunavut fast facts

  • Area – Two million square kilometres (about one fifth of Canada's land mass)
  • Population – 85 percent Inuit out of a total population of 29,000
  • Capital city – Iqaluit (population 6000)
  • Geographic regions – Qikiqtaaluk, Kivalliq (formerly known as "Baffin" and "Keewatin") and Kitikmeot
  • Communities – Nunavut has 25 communities of which Iqaluit is the largest
  • Parks – Three national parks are being created in Nunavut


Aboriginal peoples
The descendants of the original inhabitants of North America. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people–Indians, Métis and Inuit. These are three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

An Aboriginal people in Northern Canada, who live in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec and Northern Labrador. The word means "people" in the Inuit language–Inuktitut. The singular of Inuit is Inuk.

Land claims
In 1973, the federal government recognized two broad cases of claims–comprehensive and specific. Comprehensive claims are based on the assessment that there may be continuing Aboriginal rights to lands and natural resources. These kinds of claims come up in those parts of Canada where Aboriginal title has not previously been dealt with by treaty and other legal means. The claims are called "comprehensive" because of their wide scope. They include such things as land title, fishing and trapping rights and financial compensation. Specific claims deal with specific grievances that First Nations may have regarding the fulfillment of treaties. Specific claims also cover grievances relating to the administration of First Nations lands and assets under the Indian Act.

The North
Land in Canada located north of the 60th parallel. INAC's responsibilities for land and resources in the Canadian North relate only to Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

This general information is provided as a brief overview only. The terms of the Indian Act, its regulations, other federal statutes and their interpretation by the courts take precedence over the content of this information sheet.
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