In 1999, the map of Canada changed once again.
On April 1, Nunavut became the third Canadian territory. Nunavut was created by separating from the Northwest Territories because the people wanted to have their own government that was more in their control. In fact, Nunavut means “our land” in Inuktitut, one of the official languages of Nunavut.
During the mid-20th century, the Canadian government was extending more and more control over the lives of Aboriginal peoples in the North, one of the ways they did this is by taking charge of their education. The government’s goal was to provide all children in the North with schooling by 1968. This resulted in many youths attending federally-funded residential schools or day schools with residential facilities. The rise in residential schools also coincided with the development of the Distant Early Warning line, a line of radar that could warn of approaching Soviet bombers, as there was an increase in military presence. Most of the teachers came from the Southern provinces and used the Alberta, Manitoba, or Ontario curriculum. For many students, residential school was a traumatic experience as they were separated from their families. In the 1990s, former students began to speak out about the abuse that they had endured at the residential schools. The education that they had received was irrelevant for many of them because it was not from a locally-developed curriculum.
In the late 1960s, the Canadian government transferred the responsibility for the schools to the territorial governments. Support for residential schools decreased. This was also around the time that Northern peoples became more and more politically active. Founded in 1971, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (now the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) became the national Inuit organization. Their mission statement is to “Serve as a national voice protecting and advancing the rights and interests of Inuit in Canada.” From 1976 to 1982, this organization led land claim negotiations to divide the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories Division Plebiscite was held on April 14, 1982. The division was supported by 56.6% of voters, with support in the eastern Arctic being 80%. Another plebiscite was held on May 4, 1992 with regards to the boundary line, with a slight majority supporting the proposed boundary line.
In the fall of 1992, the final Nunavut land claim agreement was put to vote. With a record voter turnout, 84.7% approved the land claim. This agreement is the largest Aboriginal land claim settlement in Canada. In 1993, both the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act and the Nunavut Act were passed by Parliament. During the next few years, legislation was passed and government departments were created in preparation for the implementation of the acts. On February 15, 1999, an election was held to vote in members of the legislative assembly. Paul Okalik was voted to be Nunavut’s premier. Helen Maksagak was appointed as the first Commissioner of Nunavut, a role similar to that of a provincial Lieutenant Governor. On April 1, 1999, Nunavut officially became Canada’s newest territory.