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National parks in the Canadian Arctic: the case of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement

Fenge, Terry






The Inuit of Nunavut formulated their land claim goals and strategy in the late 1970s, focusing upon dividing the NWT to create a new territory called Nunavut, and defining a process to determine which land should be owned by Inuit and which by government. The strategy also proposed the formation of institutions, upon which government and Inuit would be equally represented, to decide how, when, to what purpose, and by whom land and natural resources in Nunavut would be developed [Merritt et al., 1989]. As part of this discussion, Inuit also debated whether and to what extent national parks could serve their land ownership, land - use, environmental conservation, and economic development goals. Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, then in charge of land claim planning for Inuit, provided a report to Parks Canada in April, 1979, that illustrated the ambivalence Inuit then felt toward national parks: The "areas of interest" identified by Inuit in the North Baffin region for likely land ownership included approximately 900 square miles of land within the proposed national park. In the course of negotiations, government negotiators assured Inuit that planning for the North Baffin National Park was moving ahead smoothly. They also advised that if Inuit insisted upon owning all of their areas of interest, so much coastal land would be removed from the proposed national park that it would no longer adequately represent natural region 37. Government felt unable to give Inuit a firm promise that the proposed North Baffin National Park would be designated, given that land ownership negotiations had overtaken the public consultation process, but still urged Inuit to withdraw their land selections from the proposed national park area. Inuit, it seemed, had the power to stop a national park from being established, but not the power to obtain from government a promise that it would establish one. Notwithstanding this potential stand - off, negotiations continued with Inuit expressing their support for the proposed national park, as long as land and ocean areas used for sport hunting were excluded. As a result, the boundaries of the proposed national park were altered to allow for Inuit ownership of approximately 100 square miles of land in the vicinity of Button Point and on Bylot Island immediately north of Pond Inlet, and Inuit agreed to withdraw their demand to own other areas of interest within the proposed park. Wager Bay was proposed as a national park in 1978 through the public consultation program on northern national parks initiated by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. As a result of these consultations the Canadian Parks Service was aware that opinion in affected communities, particularly Coral Harbour and Chesterfield Inlet, was divided on the advisability of establishing a national park at Wager Bay. In 1981 the Keewatin Inuit Association passed a resolution opposing the establishment of a national park at Wager Bay until the settlement of the Inuit land claim. Tagak Curley, an Inuk from the Keewatin region and territorial Minister of Economic Development and Tourism in the mid - 1980s, publicly opposed this proposed national park. However, by the commencement of land ownership negotiations for the Keewatin region in early 1991, Inuit were quite interested in having the area designated a national park. This change of position was due, in part, to the Nunavut Agreement - In - Principle, which provided answers to many of the questions raised by communities, but not satisfactorily answered by the Canadian Parks Service, during the earlier public consultation process. Inuit identified two "areas of interest" totaling approximately 550 square miles within the proposed national park. These parcels, located on both the north and south shores of Wager Bay, were identified by Inuit for their environmental importance and as potential locations for future economic development associated with guiding, sightseeing and sport hunting. In land ownership negotiations, Inuit pressed government to include in the Nunavut Final Agreement a promise to establish Wager Bay as a national park within a specified time. Government refused, repeating the position it adopted in earlier negotiating sessions, that if Inuit wanted the proposed national park to go ahead they should withdraw their proposed land selections at Wager Bay. Inuit were assured that government would continue to consult them on this issue outside the land claim forum.

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