Looking to the future ...

Birth of a home
Nunavut born with a whimper, not a bang

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

It's still cold in Rankin Inlet. The sea off the coast of Grise Fiord is still frozen, and spring is still at least a month away for the people of Baffin Island.

Everything is the same and everything is different in the Eastern and High Arctic today, April 1, 1999.

The Inuit, who called the North their own for thousands of years before Europeans arrived, can call it their own once again.

This is the day Nunavut is born. Our Land, our home.

Canada's northernmost territory is born with a whimper, not the bang that signalled the creation western territory.

Nunavut is by far the most culturally unified state in the Canadian union. The vast majority, 85 per cent, are the people of a culture that predates the arrival of Europeans.

"Life is going to change quite a bit," said Peter Ernerk in an interview with News/North back in October of 1996.

"There is going to be a lot of excitement in all of Nunavut. This is more than 20 years of work that will finally become a reality."

Optimism reins this day, as it did during the decades that preceded it.

The political process has been greased by a spirit of co-operation, which has always been critical to survival in the world's most inhospitable climate.

Key to that co-operation is communication. Each of the 24,000 people of the 10 electoral ridings live close to their elected representative, most close enough to walk.

Each riding has two representatives, one man and one woman, one who lives in the riding and one in the capital, Iqaluit.

"A lot of the decision-makers will have been born in the North," noted Ernerk. "They will have more understanding and be able to better serve the people."

The majority has not used its democratic power to dominate the minority.

The voters have elected a government that is one third non-aboriginal, including a number who have survived the transition from the old territorial government to bring their legislative experience to the new territory.

At the top of the government's agenda is reducing the casualties of the clash between new and old ways.

The problems of substance abuse, unemployment and suicide that racked the North the last 40 years have not vanished.

The government has appointed a face from the past to head up the new attack on these problems.

Nunavut's chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Bargen, in close consultation with his staff, will be assembling a plan of attack. He has vowed it will be innovative and swift, but not painless.

Meanwhile, the caribou have started moving north to their calving grounds, as they have always done.

But this day they move through a land the Inuit, "The People," can again truly call their own.