Surveyors toe the line
Work will go on for about seven more years

by Chris Myers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 31/97) - The largest land surveying program in Canada since the opening up of the West in the 1870s is under way in the North.

Marie Robidoux, head of the land claims surveys in the NWT for Natural Resources Canada, says this will be the fourth summer of a program in Nunavut that will continue until at least 2003.

So far survey crews have done enough work that if all the boundaries they've determined were laid in a straight line, it would be more than 100,000 kilometres long.

When land claims are mentioned, most Canadians think of dollars -- how much it costs the taxpayer -- though if they live in the Northwest Territories, they think of division in 1999, Robidoux says.

But land claims are also about land, boundaries and surveys.

When the Nunavut claim came into effect in 1993, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. became the largest private land owner in North America, Robidoux says.

The corporation holds title to land transferred by government in trust for the Inuit of Nunavut. There are 1,155 Inuit-owned parcels of across Nunavut representing a total of 350,000 square kilometres.

For some of these parcels, the Inuit also got title to the mines and minerals under the Earth's surface, along with mineral resources development and revenues.

More than 90 per cent of these parcels are in the hinterland, abutting federal Crown lands, Robidoux says. The rest are within municipal boundaries.

All the legal descriptions of Inuit lands are based on natural features and need to be visible in order to identify the exact location of corners, Robidoux says.

A corner is defined as a bend in a straight-line boundary as well as the point where boundaries meet rivers, lakes, creeks or ocean. Natural boundaries like rivers are not surveyed.

There have been over 7,000 corners identified and they are spread out over one fifth of Canada's land mass.

The average lot in a typical Canadian city has a boundary of 15 to 30 metres, whereas an Inuit land parcel boundary averages seven kilometres and may be as long a 60 kilometres between corners.

Surveys can only be carried out in the summer months, usually July and August.

However, lingering ice or snow or glaciers create major problems just as an unexpected snow storm in August can create havoc in any well-organized survey project, she says.

Training local people for the surveys is a requirement of the Nunavut Land Claim. They receive training in the use of survey equipment and the procedures required for the project.

Some of the training might be done beforehand, but the bulk of it is on the job, Robidoux says.

Many Inuit have become proficient at setting up and operating a variety of survey equipment. Many of these skills are transferable to a number of jobs that will be available in Nunavut in the next few years, Robidoux adds.

Global positioning satellite technology and equipment are the main survey tools.

Most people travelling on the land for exploration, fishing, hunting and resources development in general use GPS receivers to orient themselves and figure out where they are, Robidoux says.