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From Igloos to the Internet: Inuit in the 21st Century

March 31, 2010

Above: Pita Aatami (center), President of the Makivik Corporation, Nunavik, visited the UW in early February. Just before his public lecture, “From Igloos to the Internet,” he spent some time with Stephen Hanson, Vice Provost, Global Affairs (left), and Anand Yang, Director, Jackson School of International Studies

By Jean-François Arteau

Jean-François Arteau is Legal Advisor and Executive Assistant to the President, Makivik Corporation. Arteau is based in Montréal, Québec.

In early February, a delegation from Nunavik, a territory located in the northern part of the Province of Québec, Canada, visited Seattle. It was at the initiative and invitation of the Canadian Studies Center, its Director Daniel Hart and Associate Director Nadine Fabbi, that a program of activities and important meetings had been planned in Seattle for our delegation.

Pita Aatami, President of Makivik Corporation, headed the delegation, a non-for-profit organization that represents 10,000 Inuit living in fourteen coastal communities in Nunavik, whose land mass in 507,000 square kilometers or three times the size of Washington State.

For some years Canadian Studies has developed an interest in matters pertaining to the Arctic and to the Inuit of Canada, including Nunavik. Relationships have been developed with the organizations of Nunavik, namely with Makivik and the Avataq Cultural Institute. Small delegations from Nunavik came to visit the Center and the UW to discuss matters of Inuit governance, culture and language.

What is Makivik? In Inuktituut, the Inuit language, it means “To Rise Up.” It is a fitting name for an organization mandated to protect the rights, interests and financial compensation provided by the 1975 James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement to the Inuit of Nunavik, the first comprehensive Inuit Land Claim in Canada, and the more recent Offshore Nunavik Inuit Land Claim Agreement ratified in 2008.

One goal of the visit of the Nunavik delegation was to discuss economic opportunities in the Nunavik region. Several business meetings were held with approximately fifteen business organizations, organized in close collaboration with the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle. Makivik’s objective for this business development meetings was to inform the business community that the Nunavik Inuit people are committed to the economic development of their region, and have been successful in many sectors of economic activity, either by establishing subsidiaries or Joint Venture Companies. Since Seattle is the gateway to Alaska, we found it natural to seek partnerships with American businesses.

These meetings were also to seek interest on the part of business people in several specific sectors – tourism development; expansion of northern cruises; use of seaweed, shrimp and medicinal plants for the development of natural products and pharmaceuticals; and marketing of the famous Fine Inuit Herbal Teas which have been marketed for several years by the Avataq Cultural Institute. Makivik is also preparing a mining strategy for Nunavik by securing expertise to evaluate the economic feasibility of mining projects in the region with an approach of sustainable development, and by working on the development of an alternative energy strategy.

The lecture delivered by Pita Aatami on February 10 at Kane Hall on the UW campus provided a clear view of the challenges and successes of Nunavik since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement. As Mr. Aatami said, “The Inuit of Nunavik are building the political, institutional and economic development structures necessary for us to control our own destiny within our region, Nunavik.”

For the last thirty years, the Inuit of Nunavik have developed their vision – to run their own affairs with an autonomous public government that is adapted to the realities of the Inuit of Nunavik and in line with Canada’s fundamental legal framework. In December 2007, an unprecedented and innovative agreement for the establishment of the Nunavik Regional Government was signed in the Québec National Assembly by Mr. Aatami, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Honourable Chuck Strahl, and the Premier of Québec, Jean Charest.

Working sessions and lunches took place during the visit of the Nunavik delegation, including with Stephen Hanson, UW’s Vice of Provost Global Affairs; Judith Howard, Divisional Dean of Social Sciences; Anand Yang, Director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies; Augustine McCaffery, Academic Programs at the Graduate School; and Daniel Hart and Nadine Fabbi of the Center.

Discussions centered on possible education and research initiatives between the Inuit of Nunavik and the UW, and the development of exchanges in science and research with regard to Arctic issues in Nunavik. Makivik is already a driving force in northern research with its Nunavik Research Centre, which received the Gold Award of the Canadian Environment Awards in 2007. Another area of interest is to increase opportunities for Nunavik Inuit undergraduate and graduate students to be properly equipped to deal with the challenges and opportunities that await them. Attending a university outside Québec or Canada would provide an international experience for these students and open horizons and possibilities. Another possibility is to foster and enhance relationships between the Inuit of Nunavik and those of Alaska in fields of research and education.
For the UW, these initiatives would increase knowledge about Inuit history, values, self-governance models, educational strategies, and leadership in foreign affairs, and on emerging Arctic issues, including impacts of climate change on the environment and traditional life.

In a nutshell, the visit of the Nunavik delegation to Seattle was a tangible and real success for both parties. Further discussions will be taking place very shortly between Makivik and UW in order to determine priority areas for future collaboration.

Job creation, education and training are of the utmost importance and top priorities for the President of Makivik and for the Inuit of Nunavik. The Inuit of Nunavik are actually laying the foundations of a new Inuit society. Today’s Inuit youth will eventually take over the responsibilities of today’s leaders. In order to do so, Inuit youth need a solid education and good living conditions.

Makivik is ready and keen to collaborate and partner with organizations and institutions that can contribute to the well-being, development and future of Nunavik and its people.

(On March 31, 2010, at a ceremony held in Toronto, Pita Aatami was awarded the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame Award, in order to recognize and celebrate Mr. Aatami’s accomplishments as business leader and his contribution to sustainable economic development.)

This visit was supported, in part, by the Makivik Corporation and funding from the Center’s Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Government of Canada and the Center’s Title VI grant, U.S. Department of Education, Office of International Education and Graduate Program Services.