On April 1, 1999, after decades of discussion, Nunavut was finally created as Canada’s newest territory. Carved off the Northwest Territories to form an eastern-Arctic homeland for the majority-Inuit population, the birth of this territory has created much expectation as well as some skepticism. Four years later, much criticism is still voiced against this experience in self- government and skepticism is even higher now in some quarters than it was at the time of Nunavut’s creation. The second election of Nunavut’s MLAs last February was anoth- er occasion to point to the critical social and economic problems facing the territory.
Yet, despite its very real problems, Nunavut is also home to a very significant and positive experiment in cultural and political affirmation. In fact, Inuit tradition- al knowledge has evolved in the span of a decade from contextualized and practical (and often spiritualized) knowledge, for the most part conceived in an ecological framework, to a new organic way of knowing, Qaujimajatuqangi (IQ). A closer look at this process through official documents, policies and the work of such bodies as the IQ Task Force (2002) help shed light on the significance of governmental autonomy for cul- tural affirmation and empowerment.
Nunavut is an idea and a human invention as much as it is a rather harsh and isolated physical space (by southern standards). It is home-place for the Inuit, a people who have inherited a distinct identity with its own cultur- al roots and history. But to the extent that the concept has long been supported by a host of studies ”” from those by policy analysts seeking greater administrative efficiency to those by environmental groups and academics seeking a launching pad for New Age alternatives ”” Nunavut is also a romantic and ideological con- struction by southerners. The North and the Aboriginal peoples who inhabit these vast regions have long been a blank slate onto which the West projects new ideas. This was made abundantly clear in recent his- tories, including that of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline hearings in the 1970s, and in early documents such as the Dene Manisfesto.
It is only recently that Inuit have had the power and the capacity to con- tribute to the discourse on Nunavut and things northern, and on Inuitness itself. They have taken over the reins from anthropologists, environmental- ists, and political scientists in this regard. And the establishment of Nunavut was instrumental to the emergence of this new assertiveness.
Indeed, legislation and policies inherited from the ”œold” Northwest Territories are being rewritten to breathe sovereign life into Nunavut. In this context, policies are not cut- and-dried value-neutral documents but richly embedded statements of values, identity, and relations among Inuit and with the ”œother.” Legislation ”œfrom the ground up” has helped bring cohesion to a people who until recently lived in small, scattered camps with several dialects and ecological adaptations, and has contributed to the projection onto the rest of the world of a common Inuit identity.
In recent decades there has been a tremendous interest in Aboriginal traditional knowledge, principally because Western scientific knowledge has come up short in resolving funda- mental problems that are rooted in values, for example, environmental problems, sustainability in all its dimensions, and the role of the indi- vidual in society.
Earlier writings on Aboriginal traditional knowledge conceived of it as a situated or contextual knowl- edge based on personal and practical experience ”œon the land” and trans- mitted orally from generation to generation. Hence the urgency for recording the traditional knowledge of elders before they passed on. For instance, in ”œTraditional Knowledge Policy,” the Government of the Northwest Territories defined tradi- tional knowledge as ”œknowledge and values which have been acquired through experience, observation, from the land or from spiritual teachings, and handed down from one generation to another.”
In contrast, the Qaujimajatuqangi (IQ) of today, as a form of knowledge for understanding and explaining Nunavut, is conceived as a dynamic, organic and evolutionary work in progress rather than a fixed and dimin- ishing product. IQ is much more than the memory traces of mortal elders, with all the limitations in scope and future utility that this implies. For instance, IQ was recently defined by the IQ Task Force as ”œthe Inuit ways of doing things: the past, present and future knowledge, experience and val- ues of Inuit society.” According to The Nunavut Economic Strategy, ”œInuit knowledge includes not only what has been handed down from the past, but also what is contemporary and chang- ing.” The new Nunavut Wildlife Act (1993) says in its preamble that IQ ”œmeans traditional Inuit values, knowledge, behaviour, perceptions, and expectations.”
These words mark the transforma- tion of IQ from contextualized knowl- edge to ways of knowing that are more fluid and amenable to human construction. The new IQ evolves and is defined over time by the Inuit themselves not by southern-trained academ- ics. IQ is not fixed but is responsive to needs, whether those needs are to provide an adaptive understanding of wildlife, define Inuit cul- ture and identity, or adopt a strategic approach to interpreting past, present and future relations with Canada and the world at large.
Inuit have always afforded much respect to elders, and certainly it is elders who have accumulated much wisdom of the land and of wildlife. This is widely recognized by scientists researching northern regions. However, when knowledge is taken out of context and generalized, or as some would say, commodified, it is typically younger Inuit, with their feet in ”œboth worlds,” who must rise to the challenge.
It is only since the 1950s, when the Inuit were encouraged to move into settlements with schools, that they began to make the transition from the oral language tradition to the written language (syllabics were intro- duced by the missionaries). And it is only with the advent of Inuit political organizations such as the early Eskimo Brotherhood (later Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, now Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami), created and funded largely by the fed- eral government, that Inuit began to develop and project a political identi- ty. Through vision statements and public relations documents, they began the task of weaving their own stories and myths about what it means to be Inuit. The dynamic young lead- ers of these organizations were fiery young Inuit, educated for the most part in federal residential schools.
Since its creation, the Government of Nunavut has significantly con- tributed to this process and has taken important strides to increase the use of IQ as both a foundation for the tradi- tional and mixed economy in Nunavut and a tool for the day-to-day opera- tions of government.
Just as culture is not frozen in time but rather evolves, IQ has become the conduit and epistemological glue for creating and projecting a culture onto the new place called Nunavut. IQ is not yet sufficiently codified and grounded through discourse in narra- tive and official documents to provide an answer for all contingencies, but it nevertheless provides broad guiding principles to evaluate whether pro- grams and policies are culturally appropriate for Inuit. For instance, the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth has recently created the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangi Katimajitt, an external council of 11 people who provide advice to the government on the context in which government activities are conducted. The corre- sponding internal counterpart, con- sisting of representatives from each Nunavut government department, is the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangita Isuma- ksaqsiuqtingit (IQI).
Get news and insights into the workings of the public service from veteran journalist Kathryn May. Delivered to your inbox.
Most governmental documents now require a statement about how IQ priorities and principles will be addressed in action plans and budgets. While much of the IQ committee’s work will be proactive and visionary, some will remain post hoc and issue- driven. The IQ committee’s work will function as a lens through which we can see how the Nunavut government is resonating with Inuit culture and the Inuit way of knowing. Senior bureaucrats, Inuit and non-Inuit, will be expected to use their own judgment in implementing IQ in their day-to- day operations.
There has also been considerable emphasis on trying to integrate IQ with Western science, or what is known as Qallunat Qaujimajatuqangi (Q2), loosely translated as the white man’s way of knowing and doing things. There is broad support in Nunavut for the idea that integration of IQ and Q2 can offer more effective knowledge for approaching discrete applications such as resource manage- ment (e.g. Nunavut bowhead whale studies), economic development plan- ning, and global climate change. There are still conflicts, however, over such issues as polar bear management, where there sometimes appears to be a struggle between IQ and the interna- tional principles and practices of sci- ence-based management.
One obvious example of this inte- gration is the new Nunavut Wildlife Act, which was passed in November 2003 after many months of extensive (and very expensive) consultation between the government’s profession- al Western-trained wildlife biologists and resource managers, Inuit har- vesters, public officials, and a power- ful IQ committee, and that will come into force January 2005. The Act was also written with considerable sensi- tivity to ”œexternal” environmental and political thought about what a made-in-Nunavut wildlife act should resonate with. Its authors were very conscious of the fact that the Act would be cast into the international arena for critique.
The result is that the Act is per- haps different from any other such legislation in the world. It combines cultural knowledge and values from an oral language tradition with post- modern political sensitivities and Western mainstream environmental science. It also recognizes some tenets of the more radical streams of envi- ronmental thought such as deep ecol- ogy and animal rights ideology. For example, the Act’s IQ principle of Pijitsirniq means that a person with the power to make decisions must exercise that power to serve the people to whom he or she is responsible; Avatimik Kamattiarniq calls for nature to be treated holistically and with respect, as wildlife and habitat are interconnected and all actions have consequences, for good or ill; Iliijaaqaqtailiniq tells us that malice toward animals is prohibited and young harvesters should be taught to respect them; and Papattiniq is about guardianship and stewardship: wildlife belongs to nature and is not a commodity.
These ”œland” values are abstracted from Inuit traditional knowledge and history, but the terminology also res- onates with deep ecology and animal rights. This is in spite of the fact that Inuit perspectives and interests often have conflicted with those of extreme environmentalism in issues such as Inuit sealing and whaling (and the more profound issue of the sustainable use and the non-use of wildlife resources). The Act also has a lot to say about relationships among Inuit, about relationships between Inuit with the ”œothers,” and about how Western science will integrate with IQ.
Political discourse, beyond the nuts and bolts of everyday liv- ing, enables people to understand themselves and to present them- selves to others with discrete identi- ties. Just as all people continually redefine their identity, Inuit will continue to invent themselves and give themselves new voices through text-mediated discourse.
As a vehicle to shape policy development, however, the capacity of IQ will increasingly be taxed. There will inevitably be contradictions and chal- lenges in the discourse and between the discourse and its historical antecedents, and between the cultural context and future directions. For instance, Nunavut MLAs (and elders) Manitok Thompson and David Iqaqri- alu said that women’s shelters ignored IQ (Nunatsiaq News May 7). Made- line Qumautuk of the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council begged to differ. ”œIt’s not the old way all the time now because our life is very different today,” she said.
The manner in which Nunavut will manage these tensions is as important to its future as the manner with which it will deal with its social and economic difficulties.
Relationships have always figured prominently among the Inuit, with each other, with nature, and now with other peoples in the global village. But when one considers that Nunavut, with fewer than 30,000 peo- ple, makes up one-fifth of the land mass of Canada but receives 85 percent of its revenues from the Government of Canada, it is easy to understand why Canadian and international good- will are very important. Nunavut is very conscious of how it is perceived beyond its borders, and this conscious- ness is very much about identity, power and scarce resources. In that sense, the need to negotiate new meanings and new relationships with the federal and international govern- ments, and with the general public as well, will remain of paramount impor- tance for Nunavut. In the public domain, good will toward this new ter- ritory is closely linked to the Inuit’s ”œgreen capital” ”” the perceived contri- bution that Inuit can make to solving environmental and political problems in Canada and the world as a whole.
This article originated as a Ph.D. paper; the opinions expressed are those of the author and do not neces- sarily reflect the views of the Government of Nunavut.