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For Canada's Inuits, this land is 'our land' (Nunavut)

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For the first time in 50 years, Canada has redrawn its map.

The vast unwieldy Northwest Territories has been divided in two to create a new territory, Nunavut.

"We have regained control of our destiny and will now determine our own path," Paul Okalik, the premier of the newly launched territory, said at Thursday's inauguration festivities in the capital, Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay).

The new subdivision, whose name means simply "our land" in the language of the Inuit (whose people called Inuk in the singular), is still huge. Comprising 20 percent of the land mass of Canada, Nunavut is as big as Western Europe, albeit with a population more like that of a commuter suburb: about 27,000, 85 percent of them Inuit.

To a world vexed by the issues of breakaway republics and "autonomous provinces," the Inuit of the eastern Arctic and the government of Canada have shown how the circle can be squared. They have shown how meaningful self-determination for a culturally distinct group can be provided for without coming at the expense of the rights of minority groups.

Nunavut represents the largest native land-claim settlement in Canadian history: a real estate deal, in effect, between the original inhabitants and the European settlers.

Equal status

But it also represents the establishment of a new political entity, a new "public government," as the phrase goes. With Inuit constituting the overwhelming majority of the population, the new territory will have, de facto, a "native government" - but one in which nonnatives participate fully. Of the 19 members of the new legislative assembly, for instance, four are non-Inuit.


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