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Nunavut is the largest and newest of the territories of Canada; it was separated officially from the vast Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999 via the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, though the actual boundaries were established in 1993. The creation of Nunavut resulted in the first major change to Canada's map since the incorporation of the new province of Newfoundland (including Labrador) in 1949.
The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay) on Baffin Island in the east. Other major communities include Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. Nunavut also includes Ellesmere Island in the north and the east of Victoria Island in the west. Nunavut is both the least populated and the largest of the provinces and territorities of Canada. It has a population of only about 29,300 spread over an area the size of Western Europe. If Nunavut were a sovereign nation, it would be the least densely populated in the world: nearby Greenland, for example, has almost the same area and twice the population.
Nunavut means 'our land' in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit. Its inhabitants are called Nunavummiut, singular Nunavummiuq. Along with Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English, and French are also official languages.
The region now known as Nunavut has supported a continuous population for approximately 4000 years. Most historians also identify the coast of Baffin Island with the Helluland described in Norse sagas, so it is possible that the inhabitants of the region had occasional contact with Norse sailors.
The recorded history of Nunavut began in 1576. Martin Frobisher, while leading an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, thought he had discovered gold ore in what is now known as Frobisher Bay on the coast of Baffin Island. The ore turned out to be worthless, but Frobisher made the first recorded European contact with the Inuit. The contact was hostile, with Frobisher capturing four Inuit people and bringing them back to England, where they quickly perished.
Other explorers in search of the elusive Northwest Passage followed in the 17th century, including Henry Hudson, William Baffin and Robert Bylot.
In 1976, there were negotiations for a land claim agreement and the new territory between the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and the federal government started. In April 1982, a majority of Northwest Territories residents voted for a division, and the federal government gave a conditional agreement seven months later. A land claims agreement was decided in September 1992 and ratified by nearly 85% of the voters in Nunavut. In June 1993, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act and the Nunavut Act were passed by the Canadian Parliament, and the transition was completed on April 1, 1999.
Although some people believe that Nunavut's borders were influenced by the shape of the Inukshuk, a symbol of Inuit heritage, this is not the case. The border between Nunavut and the NWT reflect land claims agreements, while the provincial/territorial borders are those remaining from before division.
Nunavut's small and sparse population makes it unlikely the territory will be granted provincial status in the foreseeable future, although this may change if the Yukon, which is only marginally more populous, becomes a province.
As of 2005, Nunavut has a population of approximately 30,000, of whom around 85% are native peoples, primarily Inuit.
The territory covers about 1.9 million square kilometres of land and water including part of the mainland, most of the Arctic Islands, and all of the islands in Hudson Bay, James Bay, and Ungava Bay (including the Belcher Islands) which belonged to the Northwest Territories. This makes it the fourth largest subnational entity (statoid) in the world. Nunavut has land borders with the Northwest Territories on several islands as well as the mainland, and a tiny land border with Newfoundland and Labrador on Killiniq Island.
If Nunavut was a country, it would rank 13th in area, after the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The creation of Nunavut created Canada's only "four corners", at the intersection of the boundaries of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, at 60°00' north, 102°00' west, on the southern shore of Kasba Lake. This is not the tourist spot it might be, as it is extremely remote and inaccessible, although there is a marker (albeit an out of date one) at the point, and some have made the trek. Some people see Nunavut's borders as forming the shape of an Inukshuk.
The highest point in Nunavut is Barbeau Peak on Ellesmere Island at a height of 2616 m (8583 ft).
Arctic tundra covers virtually all of Nunavut, the only exceptions being a tiny area in the extreme southwest near the "four corners" alluded to above, where a marginal taiga forest exists, and small zones of permanent ice caps, found on some of the larger Arctic Islands (especially Baffin, Devon and Ellesmere) at sites having a relatively high elevation.
Nunavut's vegetation is partially composed of rare berries, lichens, Arctic Willows, moss, tough grass, and small willow shrubs.
10 Largest Municipalities by population
Regions of Nunavut
It is a commonly-held misconception that Nunavut is made up of some of the former regions of the NWT, separated in their entirety. This is not the case; the dividing line did not follow region boundaries, although boundaries have been subsequently finessed so that three former NWT regions collectively constitute Nunavut. They serve as census divisions, but have no autonomous governments:
- Qikiqtaaluk Region or Baffin Region
- Kivalliq Region (formerly "Keewatin region")
- Kitikmeot Region
The former NWT's Baffin region was entirely transferred to Nunavut. The former Kitikmeot region is mostly in Nunavut, except two southwestern areas and the northwest corner of Victoria Island. Likewise, the former Keewatin region is largely in Nunavut, except a southwestern rectangle.
Fort Smith region and Inuvik region remain census divisions of the Northwest Territories. A small right triangle of the former Fort Smith region is in Nunavut now, while none of the Inuvik region was transferred to Nunavut.
The aforementioned regional divisions are distinct from the district system of dividing the Northwest Territories that dated to 1876 and was abolished when Nunavut was created. Nunavut encompasses the entirety of the District of Keewatin (which had differing boundaries from the Keewatin/Kivalliq regions), the majority of the District of Franklin and a small portion of the District of Mackenzie.
Nunavut's head of state is a Commissioner appointed by the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. As in the other territories, the commissioner's role is symbolic and is analogous to that of a lieutenant-governor. While the Commissioner is not formally a representative of the Queen of Canada, a role roughly analogous to representing the Crown has accrued to the position.
The members of the unicameral legislative assembly are elected individually; there are no parties and the legislature is consensus-based. The head of government, the premier of Nunavut, is elected by, and from the members of the legislative assembly.
The territory's first legislature was dissolved on January 16, 2004, with an election shortly thereafter. See Nunavut general election, 2004. As of this writing, Nunavut is in its second government.
Faced by criticism of his policies, Premier Paul Okalik set up an advisory council of 11 elders, whose function it is to help incorporate "Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit" (Inuit culture and traditional knowledge, often referred to in English as "IQ") into the territory's political and governmental decisions.
The territory has an annual budget of $Cdn 700 million, provided almost entirely by the federal government. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin designated support for Northern Canada as one of his priorities for 2004, with an extra $500 million to be divided among the three territories.
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