With games, feasts, pride and hope people across the
eastern Arctic said goodbye to the old Northwest Territories
Wednesday and took their place as residents of Nunavut,
Canada's new territory.
Let the rest of the know that we have our own culture, and
they're are going to get to know us, "a beaming Sila Kelly
said as the celebrations began.
In Iqaluit, the Nunavut capital, about 150 people braved bitter
winds that chilled the air to -42C as they gathered outdoors for
traditional Arctic games such as harpoon tossing and nusuuraut,
a four-way tug of war.
Smiles may have been a bit forced in the teeth of north
winds gusting up to 60 kilometres an hour. But there
was nothing forced about the joy.
"I think our culture and language will be strengthened," Ruth
Kadlutsiak said, especially for her three children and the
next generation of Inuit.
"It'll build up their self-esteem. Everybody is so proud of
what they've accomplished here."
Joelie Sanguya, who travelled to Iqaluit from further up Baffin
Island at Clyde River for the celebration, said this is what the
Inuit have waited for for years.
"Inuit people have been put aside and have had everything
done by the government. This sort of thing is where the
Inuit will have some input.
"I'm looking forward to seeing it."
Nunavut was born out of the 1992 Nunavut Land Claim Agreement,
under which the Inuit agreed to give up any future aboriginal
rights to their traditional land in return for the power to govern
their own territory. The western half of the old territory will
continue to be known as the Northwest Territories.
Iqaluit's celebrations were being mirrored in communities
throughout the North in festivals that will last several days.
Pangnirtung will stage a seal hunt. Grise Fjord will have
a seal-cleaning contest.
On the western shore of Hudson Bay, Arviat will hold dog
sled races and an igloo-making contest.
But the main focus will be on Iqaluit. By the time festivities
end today, Nunavut will have sworn in its judges and its MLAs,
inaugurated its own division of the R.C.M.P. and held its firs
session of the legislature.
There will also be a full measure of pomp and ceremony. At a
community feast Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Gov. Gen.
Romeo LeBlanc will get a chance to sample traditional northern
delicacies including caribou and raw seal.
The information of Nunavut is the first redrawing of the Canadian
map since the entry of Newfoundland-which is celebrating its
50th anniversary today.
The new territory, formed from the eastern half of the old Northwest
Territories, will cover 2.2 million square kilometres of tundra, ice
cap and rock, frozen coast - more than twice the area of Ontario.
That vast expanse is populated by only about 25,000 people - not
even enought to fill a football stadium. About 85 per cent are Inuit
and they face unemployment, poverty, low education and substance
Jobs and better housing are two things many Nunavut residents say
they want from their new government. They're prepared to be
patient - but not too patient.
"After a year, we'll see how it's going to be, said Pootoogoo Noah.
"It should be all right."
But for now, Canada should be proud of its new North, said Indian
Affairs and Northern Development Minister Jane Stewart.
"Just as normal Jane, I can't tell you how much pride it gives me,"
"We can reconcile aboriginal rights in a modern Canada. Our
federation is flexible and can accomodate the wishes of its people.