In 1999 the new territory of Nunavut, which means "our land" in Inuktitut, the Inuit language. Nunavut is a vast territory - larger than Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec combined-that contains one fifth of Canada's land (2,254,402 sq km). This is the first major change to the map of Canada since Newfoundland joined Canada 50 years ago, in 1949.
The ancestors of the Dene Indian people lived in the Northwest Territories some 10,000 years ago, and were joined by the Inuit who are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait about 5,000 years ago. European expeditions in the 1570s were the first recorded visits to the Northwest Territories. Fur trading began in the late 1680s and whaling in the 1800s, starting a process of substantial change for the Inuit. Stable communities grew around trading posts, mission schools and Royal Canadian Mounted Police stations. In 1870, the British government transferred control of the North-Western Territory to Canada (then everything north and west of Manitoba). In 1905, both Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces and in 1912 Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec were enlarged to their current northern boundaries. In 1999, the Northwest Territories were divided in two. The eastern two-thirds of the territory is known as Nunavut, which means "Our Land" in the Inuit language of Inuktitut. The new territory is the result of a land settlement and Aboriginal rights agreement between the Inuit and the Canadian Government.
See territorial map.
Inuit, as the majority population of Nunavut, are shaping the territorial government in keeping with their culture, traditions and aspirations. Inuktitut is a working language of the government, though government services are also available in English and French. The government intends to incorporate the best of traditional Inuit and contemporary government systems. The Government of Nunavut is elected by all residents of the territory regardless of their origin.
About 56 percent of Nunavut's residents are under the age of 25, and all residents must cope with a cost of living two to three times higher than that of southern Canadians.
The economy relies heavily on resource industries subject to wide fluctuations in world markets. Mining is by far the largest private sector industry, with major mines for ore including gold, uranium and recently diamonds. Development, while necessary for economic prosperity, is being carefully managed so as not to threaten the fragile Arctic ecosystem and the traditional lifestyles of the northern peoples.
The Aboriginal peoples' traditional subsistence activities--fishing, hunting and trapping--also have an impact on the Nunavut economy. Commercial fishery development in Nunavut --freshwater and saltwater--is being encouraged. Fur harvesting continues to be very important, supplementing the income of many Aboriginal families.
Recently, tourism has gained prominence. Nunavut offers a variety of landscapes of great natural beauty, conducive to fishing, wildlife observation and other outdoor activities. Sports fishing and big-game hunting play a small role as well, building on the Aboriginals' innate skills in those fields.