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Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada

Nunatsiavut

Our earliest ancestors lived mainly on the north coast of Labrador, where they travelled all over, harvesting the resources of the Land and sea. For thousands of years, they had little or no contact with any European cultures.

In the 1760s, Moravian missionaries became the first Europeans to make a presence north of Hamilton Inlet. With the German missionaries’ presence the Inuit began to change their way of life. Their semi-nomadic and communal lifestyle was not encouraged, and the missionaries unfortunately brought with them disease that slowly began to decimate the Inuit population. Over time, Inuit became more and more connected to the emerging trade economy of Newfoundland and Labrador, often working as trappers and fishers.

However, the demise of the fur trade in the 1920s brought further social and economic upheaval. Hudson’s Bay Company and the Newfoundland Commission of Government took control of the Moravian stores selling furs and fish with little success. After Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada in 1949, the Moravian Church, the Grenfell Mission and the provincial government suspended services to the northern communities of Hebron, Okak and Nutak, claiming it was too costly to service such small remote communities. Residents were forcibly resettled throughout Labrador, and the trauma of that move continues to resonate today.

The Labrador Inuit path to self-governance has involved the hard work and dedication of many people over a span of decades. Today, it remains one of the proudest and most important moments in our long history.

In the 1760s, Moravian missionaries became the first Europeans to make a presence north of Hamilton Inlet.

The Labrador Inuit Association was formed in 1973 to promote Inuit culture; improve the health and well-being of our people; protect their constitutional, democratic and human rights; and advance Labrador Inuit claims with Canada and the Newfoundland and Labrador government. In 1977, the LIA began the long journey towards self-government by filing a land claim with the provincial and federal governments seeking rights to the “land and sea ice in Northern Labrador.” For the next three decades, their negotiators pursued the dream of self-government for Labrador Inuit through the settlement of their land claim. This dream was realized on Dec. 6, 2004, when the provincial government passed the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act, which paved the way for the establishment of the Nunatsiavut government on Dec. 1, 2005.

The Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement set a precedent by including self-government provisions within the claim. This is the first Inuit region in Canada to achieve self-government, a proud accomplishment for all Labrador Inuit. As a self-governing Inuit regional government, Nunatsiavut continues to set new standards for the way in which Labrador Inuit interact with the provincial government and other entities.

Although Nunatsiavut remains part of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Nunatsiavut government has authority over many central governance areas, including health, education, culture and language, justice and community matters. At the heart of governance is the power to make laws. In Nunatsiavut, the Labrador Inuit Constitution is the fundamental law of Labrador Inuit. All other laws made by the Nunatsiavut government are driven by a set of fundamental principles that arise from the Labrador Inuit Constitution.

Hebron in Nunatsiavut
Hebron in Nunatsiavut

Nunatsiavut is a consensus form of parliamentary democracy designed to ensure a separation of power between the political and operational levels of government. At the political level, the democratically elected representatives of the Nunatsiavut assembly make laws and provide broad policy direction for the government.

The community of Hopedale is the legislative capital of Nunatsiavut. At the operational level, the departments of the Nunatsiavut government must enforce the laws of Nunatsiavut and turn policy direction from the Nunatsiavut assembly into programs and services tailored to serve Labrador Inuit and our residents. The community of Nain is the administrative capital of Nunatsiavut.

At the community level, the Nunatsiavut government comprises five Inuit community governments representing Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet. Inuit community governments are responsible for serving all residents of their communities.

A community leader called an AngajukKâk represents his or her constituency in the Nunatsiavut assembly.

Man cleaning a fish in Nunatsiavut
Nunatsiavut man gutting salmon on the shore

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