The Canadian Concept of Northern Territories Canada’s most remarkable and most successful constitutional innovation in modern times has been ‘the northern territory’. This has seen two-thirds or more of Canada’s total physical expanse being renewed or reconstituted – or newly constituted – with whole regions slowly undergoing healing reforms while race relations, socio-economic prospects, notions of Development, and the nature of Community are transformed in the process. It has usually proceeded implicitly for years, gathering support before becoming explicit, although in some regions, such as Northern Quebec (the subject of a detailed case study below) change has occurred whole and, in the 1970s, amid crisis. Despite being little known or discussed at home among constitutional specialists – and subject to mis- and dis-information there by some of the country’s loudest non-specialists, e.g., talkback radio hosts – this process is one of Canada’s finest exports. The subject requires much more attention in Canada, but meanwhile has potential importance – as inspiration, regardless of its particulars as a precedent – for other peoples abroad.2Amiqqaaluta/ Partageons/ Let Us Share, the March 2001 report of the Nunavik Commission – a tri-partite body comprising Inuit, the Government of Quebec, and Government of Canada – has proposed creation and structures of a northern territory for Quebec, providing an opportunity to examine and discuss here the whole genre. Thet report is online in English, French, and Inuktitut, the English text being: http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/pr/agr/nunavik/lus_e.html Since 1945 the ‘northern territory’ has seen flexible, negotiable, and adaptable arrangements, in which European and indigenous cultures have addressed anew the basic issues of the first historical encounters in the Americas, a New World indeed after the horrors of Depression and War, i.e.,
mutual comprehension between distinct peoples;
social and power relations as individuals and collectivities;
use and misuse of the natural environment (or ‘economic development’);
cooperation and assistance in everything from clothing and lifestyles to law, legislatures, and language;
the establishment of peaceful polities linking the opportunities and networks of the European and wider worlds with the cultures, local knowledge, and rhythms of place; and
the elaboration of relevant and workable public services, public policy, and institutions of administration and governance.
The basic dynamics among such peoples in such places have been occurring in many ‘first world’ and other countries. However, the Canadian case has developed in its own way.
The Canadian northern territory came into view slowly through the primeval murk and noise of its cultural and political creation – a creation of trial and error, muddle and meddle, push and stall, much heat and little light.3 But now it has become clear, proven, and sound. It has three features to interest us here when looked at from the viewpoint of mainstream Canadian or ‘first world’ constitutional conventions.
It is a social and cultural metamorphosis in which an empty White Man’s frontier or garrison region becomes a busy locally centred hearth or foyer of another people, culture, and, often, language. (The difference, in fact, between ‘Northwest Territories’ and Nunavut or Denendeh, between ‘Northern Quebec’ and Nunavik.)
It is a breaking down of old – and opening up of additional and new – constitutional space on the part of the White Man to accommodate inexplicit and energetic political difference. (Après nous le déluge? No, there is little to fear.)
It is an institutional structure based on different assumptions of political economy, of political and legal philosophy, and of society than those underpinning the older constitutional units with which it is affiliated. (It is certainly not Victorian Canada.)
That is, in the first case, something which we believe is waiting to become just like us decides to become something else. We had not even noticed or valued its differences as more than vestigial, or even unfortunate, traditions. In the second case, we have torn down a wall of our safe system and opened it out, in a new building style, and we are not quite sure how it will work out with our ‘new’ fellow inhabitants. In the third case, we are accepting different ideas of property and political legitimacy, of development philosophy, of what kind of society we are – ours and ‘theirs’ – and of what kind we may become.
If we are not talking about these things, but hold old colonising dreams of merely incorporating some eccentrics into our system or languages wherein we can transform them, then we will have many more years of conflict. Nevertheless, there will be some in Quebec City and Ottawa who continue to see things in such terms. So perhaps we need a further item:
It is an application of a progressive current in existing Canadian inter-regional and inter-cultural political tradition4 to the demands of what is sometimes called ‘a third order of [constitutionally recognised] government’, i.e., indigenous governments, only now emerging in workable contemporary form.5
This is both a positive recognition of recent developments, and acceptance that existing political and constitutional structures are too rigid or otherwise inappropriate for large portions of nation-state territory. Such problems are most evident in large countries like Canada, Australia, and Russia-Siberia, or other large expanses like Greenland and Alaska, or, large in relation to total nation-state size, areas like North Norway (i.e., Finnmark, Troms, and Nordland).6
It is harder to define or circumscribe Inuit or other indigenous content because the northern territory is a vehicle for the rebuilding of indigenous society, an opportunity to reconstruct and revise in new forms a society which has gone through great changes and shocks since it was whole in times past. One can look at the priorities of Inuit authorities and governments in general and list various items, but all these entities, whether Greenland Home Rule or Alaska’s North Slope Borough or the Canadian models, have been so dynamic and so new that it would be presumptuous to assume that we have seen more than a hint of how they will evolve.
In Canada non-indigenous people are ‘re-discovering’ and re-inventing the country – or at least some very large parts of it. Not only are the post-1945 experiences of the Northwest Territories (NWT), including what is now Nunavut; of Yukon; and of Northern Quebec including Nunavik and the Cree, Innu, and Naskapi territories, creating political and policy ripples southward as Canada seeks fair and workable outcomes in indigenous-white relations. They are also providing a model for national policy, e.g., in the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), and inspiration for other continents and for international bodies.
Canada’s practice of northern territories’ ethno-political and ethno-regional accommodation provides further fuel for the international political philosophy current centred on writings by Canadians like Michael Ignatieff, Will Kymlicka, Peter H. Russell, John Ralston Saul, Charles Taylor, and James Tully. As Canada’s elder statesman and foremost federalism practitioner commented when I suggested that we might almost have an ism, ‘Perhaps it really is a “Canadian political ism” but we have stumbled on it in a very Canadian, pragmatic “non-ideological” style. I am strongly of the view that this is the essence of what federalism is all about.’(Hon Gordon Robertson, personal communication, 4-Sept-2001). As a philosophical current it may therefore be better known or at least more explicit to, say, Australian university students, than to many Canadian policy-makers. Unfortunately Canadians have been largely unaware of both northern territories and the larger current as home-grown achievements to be valued.7 However, this current was the implicit subject of Canada’s recent Massey radio lectures, an important national forum.8 The Nisga’a Treaty uproar in British Columbia has demonstrated how blunt egalitarianism and conformity – and public assumptions of a monoculture – have failed utterly to deal with a complex politico-constitutional issue while making the task much harder. Canada’s public debates are too likely to be hijacked by talkback radio – the pandemic of our times – and the tabloid streak in even the most resolutely broadsheet newspapers, a crude levelling down in rhetoric and opinion on subjects which need mediation almost by definition, or at least good-hearted re-negotiation, including patience, thought, analysis, discussion, and give-and-take. If the political process is reduced in effect to clenched fist salutes, torchlight rallies, or crowd responses in city plazas shouted to balconies of posturing leaders with powerful sound systems, we resemble the dark times of 1930s fascism. And yet, again today we are seeing the emergence of sad little populist leaders or too brilliantly grinning ones. Like the powerful myths which the first democracies of Ancient Greece and their drama festivals explored to create what we call Western Civilisation, stories of Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Antigone, Orestes and Oedipus, the Furies and Athena, we are ruminating on times of crowd power manipulated by urban tyrannies of sad little men and accidental heroes, a time which those Greek playwrights and audiences knew all too well and had recently overthrown.9 The reasons why Canada has not accepted its own prodigious child are many. However, two groups are special problems: hardline indigenous rights advocates in Southern Canada claim to find the emerging northern territories too weak or too lacking in guarantees for indigenous rights, while others in governments who have accepted well-meaning reforms in practice have not yet followed the implications through to adjust their equal rights theories. The hardliners usually have very scant or inaccurate knowledge – and often only studied ignorance – of Northern facts, documents, and legalities, although sometimes they take their stand as a practical tactic to ‘up the ante’ for future political settlements of their own groups. The government well-meaners, for their part, either believe the Northern political settlements to be unique concessions in special circumstances, or some other minor variation. In reality, the contexts in which Canada’s northern territories are emerging – and similar ones elsewhere such as in Alaska, home rule Greenland, and Australia’s Torres Strait – are something new but widely shared in the Circumpolar world and elsewhere. Their structure and dynamics have little to do with anything specifically or uniquely Canadian, but are universal. However, relative success in addressing them has been a tribute to and characteristic of Canadian political culture.
In Practice: Prospects; Problems; Process; Product10 1. Prospects The typical northern territory in Canada is initially defined arbitrarily by political boundaries imposed by the White Man, or is quite undefined. A host of government policies have made trans-boundary indigenous structures almost unworkable, although there have existed associations of jurisdictionally defined bodies, e.g., Inuit Tapirisat representing Inuit of Northwest Territories (NWT), Nunavut, Quebec, and Labrador. A group of communities, or villages plus their out-camps, make common cause in relation to some external issue such as a hydro-electric project or imposed social policies, and develop a sense of regional unity around elements of their traditional culture. Rarely do all such groups within the region accept or share this new identity happily, while others farther afield may feel left out. When this newly self-conscious regional community discovers how few legal rights and political influence it and its members are seen to have in the eyes of the White Man’s system, serious political mobilisation begins. Non-indigenous expertise and political support is sought – perhaps a lawyer and some church group outside the region, and perhaps with help from an academic researcher or someone who has worked as nurse or teacher in the region. Whatever the specific issue or subject of initial grievances – a health epidemic, lack of housing, polluted food habitat – a fairly stable clutch of issues forms into a whole political agenda. This almost always has a demand for self-government and legal recognition of territory and resource rights at its centre, and draws heavily on socio-economic disadvantage, inferior or absent public services, and cultural discrimination as significant data. From now on almost any issue from national defence to census surveys may become a point of contention, the real issue being the lack of politico-legal recognition of the people and consequent failure to have them make decisions for their region and people. Regional whites other than those already enmeshed in the indigenous community enter the fray, insisting on following Canadian or Norwegian institutional habits, i.e., the ones they can, do, or expect to dominate whether or not they are a population majority. Their raw self-interest, their often patronising or racist attitudes towards indigenous people, and the plain injustices experienced by indigenous people often balance the political scales or assist the indigenous side in the eyes of the wider provincial or national public. Indigenous people may even get hold of some first-rate young non-indigenous expertise, as in Nunavik, Nunavut, and the NWT, who help pitch a modern and professional case to senior governments and other power élites. Where resource industries are involved, or major government-backed projects like the James Bay Project, they often provide support and expertise to the whites and to pro-development indigenous groups. In some cases, as in the NWT, the white minority move along conventional paths toward regional autonomy and – they hope – provincehood until the indigenous political storms erupt and blow things off course. Some of the most common permutations and combinations of the conflict are enumerated in a list from ‘a’ to ‘t’ in the next section. There is almost unlimited range of subject matter which may become part of the struggle, however.
2. Problems Many voices in every indigenous hinterland region and ‘northern territory’ are convinced of its uniqueness. This is often one of the few things indigenous people, sub-national authorities, and national protectors of hinterlands can agree on – and it is wrong. From a political and constitutional point of view such hinterlands are all alike. The typical problems and characteristics of post-1945 northern territories have been:
a belief that they and their circumstances and dynamics are unique;
small population in extensive territory;
transient non-indigenous population;
identity as settler frontier vs. indigenous homeland;
a governing system of disputed political legitimacy;
physical and jurisdictional boundaries arbitrary and often disputed;
disputed social and cultural norms (e.g. language and cultural rights and use);
disputed use and ownership of land and sea territory, and resources;
individual rights of newcomers and settlers celebrated;
collective rights of indigenous peoples officially dismissed;
high levels of national subsidies;
low levels of services and socio-economic conditions, especially for indigenes;
status as national/sub-national treasure house vs. self-determining region or people;
‘territory’ or such status vs. ‘state’, ‘province’, internal ‘republic’;
competing institutional legitimacies (e.g., Inuit organisations vs. governments);
competing models for constitutional/political structures (e.g. Kativik, Makivik, Co-ops);
ambivalent or fluctuating national (or sub-national, e.g., Quebec) policy towards northern territories;
settlers’ isolation from heartland and its evolving political culture;
northern settlers’ ideology ‘beyond the pale’ by national standards; and
a need for national governments, parliaments, or parties to broker northern reforms and accommodations for social peace.
This mix of tensions, differences, paradoxes, and grievances along a fault-line of different language, culture, birthplace, socio-economic well-being, race, and/or skin colour is the basic data of northern territory political and constitutional development.
The above list with illustrations...
A belief that they and their circumstances and dynamics are unique includes the non-indigenous northern population insisting that only ‘we know our natives, unlike bleeding-heart governments and do-gooders’, this in order to resist demands that they treat indigenous peoples better and include them in social, employment, and political life. Indigenous cultures, for their part, are unique in various ways, just as all cultures are unique. However, in the crucial issue of political and constitutional relations the race or cultural relations and politics in northern territories are so predictable that one could render them as a board game. Northern ‘uniqueness’ is deployed by newcomers, sometimes with some co-opted locals, to reinforce newcomer political claims to dominance and superiority, e.g., in political structures which favour them, especially conventional workings of the nation-state, e.g., Canada or Norway, with which local indigenous peoples have had little or no experience. This is the old pioneer ethic, to create a new place in the newcomers’ image.
Small population in extensive territory is cited in two opposite ways, perversely, (1) to argue that people are too few and scattered to deserve the expense of high quality public services and infrastructure, while also that (2) they must not have for themselves the great wealth assumed to lie in their region (e.g., in energy sources, minerals, seas, forests). It may be more useful to recognise that such sparselands and archipelagos are special cases with special needs.
Transient non-indigenous populations pose many difficulties, including political difficulties. In Australia’s Northern Territory a fast throughput of whites keeps 50,000-year occupants permanently powerless and unable to influence the shape, future, or daily life of the region, while having extreme social problems as a result of this marginalisation.11 Until an indigenous political settlement is achieved the transients usually have the best jobs, best housing, access to goods, etc. and dictate the terms of life in the region even when they are a minority. The Soviet North was one case where much was done in the name of mythical indigenous autonomies, indigenous peoples having no clout whatever (although an indigenous minority certainly benefited from opportunities in the ‘mainstream’ and now provides many indigenous leaders). All indigenous peoples in every northern territory fear that they will be quickly outnumbered and the communities of newcomers favoured and built up by senior governments until formal political power is transferred to these newcomers. Traditional communities oriented to livelihoods of the seasons on land, freshwater, and sea cannot compete with the sort of nation-state political, social, or cultural clout of the highly skilled and/or educated transient workforces who are found in such hinterlands as expert élites. Indigenous land claims and self-government movements are largely a response to this newcomer threat. The evolution of the NWT from the mid-1960s may be the clearest and most fully documented case of this phenomenon in Canada.12
Identity as settler frontier vs. indigenous homeland is another variation on this theme.13 The frontier ethic implies that hinterlands are awaiting the transforming hand of the nation-state majority people or, as in Canada, peoples (i.e., Francophones and Anglophones), while indigenous peoples see these places where they and their ancestors have always lived, simply, as theirs – that is, shared by them with many other life forms under the beneficence or occasional displeasure of a higher power ‘not of this world’. Indigenous peoples are usually outraged by notions of private land ownership, or of sovereign jurisdiction by outsiders, as both mad and bad.14 The difference of viewpoint implies very different national and hinterland policies, the frontier centred initially on white or other national majority’s aspiration and the homeland on indigenous need. Essentially the story of Northern hinterlands since 1945 has been first an attempt at frontier incorporation followed by indigenous resistance and resulting official movement towards greater accommodation or recognition of homeland values.
A governing system of disputed legitimacy such as a government imposing laws and regulations foreign to local custom, or operating with incomprehensible procedures, may command silence or fear but little respect. When it blunders in fields of local expertise such as caribou migrations or outrages local feelings in other ways it loses authority.
Physical and jurisdictional boundaries arbitrary and often disputed may involve traditional cultural boundaries, e.g., between peoples divided by state, province, territory, or national boundaries like Quebec and Labrador Inuit, or the poignant case of Quebec Inuit separated from their marine and insular resource base (or Polar Inuit from traditional hunting areas in Canada’s northernmost islands). The inability of the NWT government to do anything for Inuit in the crucial subject matter of marine hunting and the ocean environment, ocean matters being under federal jurisdiction, was a factor in the Nunavut movement.
Disputed social and cultural norms (e.g. language and cultural rights and use) have been major issues in most hinterlands. Past prohibitions on indigenous language use by school children being immersed in English, French, Russian, or Norwegian, have been a major and often very bitter politicising element when those children grow up.
Disputed use and ownership of land and sea territory, and resources have involvednation-state and sub-national governments simply denying that indigenous people have rights to pursue their livelihoods or protect their resource base when their activities, however longstanding, conflict with projects advanced or allowed by governments. This is why land, sea, and resource rights are such fundamental organising principles for indigenous politics. The White Man often sees indigenous activities as folkloric or sentimental, but they are a way of life and an economic base, often the sole available base.
Individual rights of newcomers and settlers celebrated as the true Northern spirit of enterprise and innovation are given official support and encouragement, usually relating to non-Northern economy, markets, or values.
Collective rights of indigenous peoples are officially dismissed and ignored, or even seen as retrograde and an obstacle to progress, despite being an inherited form of organisation in indigenous communities. The ideological preference of the White Man for rugged individualism and individual enterprise becomes a policy of ignoring, discouraging, or replacing existing activities in favour of newcomers’ projects. In Inuit areas of Northern Canada the Co-operatives became an important means of bridging some of these divides between different economic approaches.
High levels of national subsidies in northern territories co-exist with a strong sense of grievance among settlers about domination by faraway capital cities and with a paradoxical rhetoric about the virtues of private enterprise and market economics despite their failure to meet northern needs. The targeting of funding may be matters of ideological preference but not always practical benefit, e.g., resource exploration programs rather than community services.
Low levels of services and socio-economic conditions, especially for indigenes can be a major problem. Governments may be prepared to spend generously in their search for the mythical wealth of the hinterland – or on hydro-electric projects – but regard provision of basic public services as something to be postponed until such wealth is flowing.
Status as national/sub-national treasure house vs. self-determining region or people is a basic government policy dilemma. Presumed resource wealth may attract public spending which, it is assumed, may soon justify such spending in remote places, while recognition of local imperatives may seem to threaten future revenue flow.
‘Territory’ or such status vs. ‘state’, ‘province’, internal ‘republic’ debates may become heated. A tailor-made arrangement for local circumstances, i.e., one which accommodates indigenous people, such as Canada’s northern territories, may conflict with newcomers’ desire to opt into the national mainstream via conventional structures (which also facilitate their domination). Newcomers will appeal to the liberal values of the national public to demand their rights to create mainstream institutions rather than recognise ‘special’ or ‘ethnically defined’ indigenous rights.
Competing institutional legitimacies (e.g., Inuit organisations vs. governments) can also be bitterly divisive where neither side recognises the authority or validity of the other’s differing aspirations or their political vehicle. This has sometimes occurred in Nunavik in relation to Ottawa-Quebec relations.
Competing models for constitutional/political structures (e.g. Kativik, Makivik, Co-ops) can be similarly divisive, especially within the indigenous community, undermining political clout. Perhaps the most bitter case in recent ‘first world’ experience has been the SLF movement based in the Sea Sami communities of North Norway and its opposition to key elements of the Sami rights movement.
Ambivalent or fluctuating national (or sub-national, e.g., Quebec) policy towards northern territories is common, most notably in episodic national protection of the environment vs. wealth-generating resource extraction projects, and other ambiguous gestures, making hinterland peoples’ relations with capitals the more complex and difficult until formal political settlements have been reached. All the same, in Northern Canada in general the indigenous organisations have usually managed this more effectively than the newcomers.
Settlers’ isolation from heartland and its evolving political culture means that the ‘conventional wisdom’ and realpolitik assumed by hinterland whites is intellectually outdated and more often a distorted or caricature mirror image of their own sense of powerlessness vis-à-vis national capitals than of the actual state of national political culture. This is a significant indigenous political resource when recognised.
Northern settlers’ ideology ‘beyond the pale’ by national standards…this happens often, as in the Yukon and NWT pre-1985 and pre-1979 respectively, and in Australia’s Northern Territory, or among various political party branches in North Norway, forcing national authorities to support indigenous peoples or at least refuse to support non-indigenous agendas in those regions. Racist or redneck hinterlands cannot be seen to be supported, except in Australia’s remarkable case of the Prime Minister threatening Kofi Annan not to comment on human rights issues during his visit to the Northern Territory in early 2000.15 But even stalemate may be useful to give incentive for negotiated accommodation.
A need for national governments, parliaments, or parties to broker northern reforms and accommodations for social peace is the logical political outcome of these problems and of course national ideals rather than hinterland prejudices give indigenous peoples a significant boost.
3. Process Process and negotiation have been the keys to Canadian indigenous policy progress and to northern territories.16 These have been more obvious in hindsight or in the broad view than to most of us involved at the time in various battles. That is, the process or negotiation has been often implicit rather than explicit – slowly moving or evolving changes of position or outlook brought by public disputation rather than quiet and rational conversation or working through of problems around a table. However, after initial fierce battles across the northern hinterlands which make up most of Canada, a series of conventions have developed, a political culture which is there for the using. (Unfortunately some governments or ministers within them continue to provoke crises through their own foolishness or arrogance, and some indigenous leaders schooled in habits of earlier confrontation are too ready to go to the brink.)
Initially the South saw the North as poor people in ragged animal skins and could think only of material change to make them look more like us. Surely the minerals presumed to lie underground throughout the hinterland would provide jobs and so schooling became an official priority. It took a long time before the Canadian public could see past prejudices about ‘Stone Age peoples’ to recognise their shared humanity and sympathies with Inuit, Dene, and other Northern peoples. The James Bay project in Quebec from the early 1970s produced some quick learning in respect of the Cree most directly and immediately affected by the project, while the Berger hearings of the mid-1970s in the NWT became a sustained national teach-in about Northern and indigenous realities, one which at last made the North a general political issue and subject of public awareness.17 Here Inuvialuit (Western Arctic Inuit), Dene, and Métis spoke through interpreters in their villages or through their articulate young people in terms all too clear to Canadians: the North was a social mess which no amount of white triumphalism and glossy public relations could hide any longer. Official good intentions, which were seen by few ‘natives’ as good at all, were not changing a divided society where whites, mostly deriving income directly or indirectly in service of indigenous administration, had most of the visible material benefits and all the power. The idea that Canada could not simply move in with lots of Southern material clutter, open schools, set up a Mountie post and a nursing station, and encourage geologists to find mine or hydrocarbon sites – that this Canadian model of national expansion was no longer enough, and even of doubtful relevance – was a shock to many Canadians. Many Canadians today prefer not to learn yet, favouring simple and crude assimilation to the complexities of cross-cultural relations.
Having established that Inuit and the other Northern peoples were people, not some strange beings with inherently greater natural powers and less humanity than ourselves, it became possible to engage in what Canadians regarded as politics. All the years of Dene protests about Treaties unfulfilled had gone unheard, but now that Northern peoples were ‘speaking our language’ in every sense, thanks to the schools, real debates began. Ottawa, used to administering the North, tried to come up with new and better programs, but Inuit and everyone else wanted Northern political participation and decision-making, not Southern expertise serving Southern priorities for Northern ‘resources’ such as caribou or mineral deposits. The 1970s were very bitter in the NWT, a region which was merely the leading edge for a whole era of indigenous-white, indigenous-government conflict across Canada – that is, the search by Southern governments and by industries they supported for Northern resources in Provinces and the two (now three) formally designated Territories turned the era into one of massive disputation. However, Canadians had learned enough that now the indigenous side was listened to more respectfully, while the insights brought to public forums by indigenous peoples and their environmental advisers and allies were changing the idea of Canada. No longer one huge empty place with lots of room for mistakes, now the North became a patchwork of peoples, each with its own unique ways and outlooks, living in home territories amid lands and waters of intricately connected eco-systems where it could matter very much precisely where mistakes were made. Lancaster Sound or the calving grounds of caribou herds, for instance, were not places in which to risk oil spills for fear of wrecking environments far and wide.
Governments often responded poorly. They believed that ‘the natives’ did not understand law and politics and that mere assertion of official will would bring things back into line. They made firm decisions which proved remarkably in-firm, failing to understand that what they faced was not callow rudeness to the Crown and disrespect for Canada’s long hard effort to extend public order and institutions into an expensive-to-serve hinterland. Rather, it was a general reaction to inappropriate policies and socially inequitable outcomes on the ground. Those Establishment whites who took time to listen carefully, i.e., the Courts, increasingly found in favour of the natives. The struggle was not of non-Europeans against Her Majesty – ‘Confound their politics,/ Frustrate their knavish tricks’ as God Save the Queen, the British and long the Canadian national anthem helpfully advises of non-British badasses – but of people dependent on living wild resources vs. an industrial state and its ‘liberal development model’. Of course, nothing was so simple – Ottawa talked about and believed in rugged free enterprise even while it created, in fact, the ultimate welfare state in the North.
As the Arctic Peoples Conference of 1973 demonstrated, Northern Canada, the Sami North of Europe, and Greenland were all experiencing similar conflicts and problems.18 Each country tended to look at things too much in national optic, and each tried to find solutions to common problems inside national conventions, and each to use its own form of national denial.19 This access to the Circumpolar world was important to Inuit for helping convince Canadian governments and political élites that problems were more basic than symbolic, more general human issues than matters of courtesy. Moreover, in general Canadians were coming to see the North as social and environmental space here and now, not a fantasy space for great projects and futuristic tomorrow. Public debates, environment controversies, court cases, newspaper and TV features, social and especially health tragedies, and renewed pride in Canada in light of the USA of race riots and Vietnam all made the North part of the national space to which, of course, equal rights and opportunities must be extended. Governments who had long tried with little success to interest Canadians in the North now found themselves caught between angry Northern natives and impatient Southern whites demanding to know why they were not performing better. The ultimate symbol of the changed North today has been Nunavut and the celebrity and attention accompanying its forma launch in April 1999, an international source of wonder and surprise.20 Canada’s general process-oriented political culture has demonstrated its worth in these matters. What seemed surprising or radical demands when first voiced by indigenous leaders in the 1960s and early 1970s have become familiar and mostly unthreatening since. A federal system of government is designed to accommodate diversity, after all. One need not even see this matter positively; one may say that the sheer length of time over which matters are discussed has rounded off sharp edges and helped everyone get used to new ideas. All sides discuss, pull back, re-assess, and try again.
4. Product The outcome or new northern territory resulting, huge like Nunavut and Nunavik, or simply large like some of the Dene regions of NWT/Yukon, has a certain pattern. While it appears to sit within existing Canadian liberal democratic norms – and much futile emotional energy is spent on arguing if Nunavut is really indigenous self-government or merely a conventional model – its novel or exotic features are clear to its inhabitants. There is a dual constitutional structure, with the governing institutions rather like or utterly like the usual elected pattern of a clutch of local councils nested under a regional government, while the other half, i.e., the land, sea, resource, and cultural provisions are exclusive to indigenous peoples and lie quite outside the scope of non-indigenous people to touch. This latter indigenous arrangement is entrenched in the Canadian Constitution, especially under Sections 35 and 25 of the Constitution Act, 1982.21 Amendment is not only very difficult but requires indigenous consent. The package of arrangements also includes a large capital fund under control of the indigenous people in question, this as compensation for past erosion of their rights and loss of territory, to be used for development or other projects with the interest providing running costs for various businesses or representative bodies. The package also includes categories of land/sea ownership and exclusive use, including some sub-surface rights, remedies for development impacts, land use and environmental management or co-management bodies sharing with senior governments the decision-making power in respect of resources and development in the whole region, and preferential rights for indigenous access to business and development opportunities. Various other features are included, such as official status for the indigenous language, social and cultural development programs, enhanced public services in key areas, and various ‘catch-up’ programs for capital needs (e.g., housing, public facilities). In sum, grafted onto a basic European liberal democratic system suited (or un-suited, depending on one’s viewpoint) to all areas within a country is another system in recognition of the cultural, social, political, environmental, and developmental imperatives of a specific place and its indigenous ecologically sustainable space. Opposites are joined. This is the basic model, but the larger cases like Nunavut have many additional features by virtue of their size and opportunities – e.g., Nunavut is a participating member of the Canadian federation of federal, provincial, and territory governments.
Such developments in Northern Canada have played a significant and perhaps dominant part in the larger national project of re-writing indigenous-white relations, and in renewing and re-balancing respect and political relations among peoples in Canada.22