The Canadian northern territories, Yukon, NWT, Nunavut, are not heard of much, save for on a question on a citizenship exam. Historically, territories were run by Ottawa while provinces had a provincial level government. In the 1970’s, self-governance was granted to the territories with Ottawa retaining the power to charge and collect royalties on natural resources. Devolution in the 2000’s means that nowadays, the distinction between a territory and province are largely in name only. Much like Pluto’s demotion from planetary status, Nunavut’s existence as relatively new – it was carved out from the NWT in 1999 in an effort to promote Inuit self-government.
Together, the territories stretches over an incredible 3.8 million km2, an area which equivalent to five Swedens. In this space, approximately 1/10th of Sweden’s population, or 115,000 people live there. That’s two stadium-full of people at BC Place. In a larger stadium, there would still be empty seats. Some of the unique issues faced by living up north is a direct result of the vastness of the land and the sparseness of the population. It’s difficult to provide infrastructure to such isolated populations. It’s hard to even understand their needs.
Northerners make up 0.3% of the Canadian population, and only between 10 and 15% of Canadians have ever visited the north. The majority who live in the north are Inuit, who have inhabited the land for generations. In Nunavut, a majority of the population speak Inukitut, instead of either of the national languages of English of French.
These people, who have survived living from some of the harshest and most isolated land in the world for generations, are now also survivors of a shamefully recent history of colonization. Only in the last decade, are the stories of residential school survivors are starting to be told. As they rebuild their communities and culture, they are also have to face the challenges brought about by urbanization and global warming. These are a resilient people. We have much to learn from them.