Nunavut will assume responsibility for a number of its own decisions almost 25 years after becoming a territory following a final agreement signed with the federal government, making it the largest land transfer in Canadian history.
The agreement was signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk at a ceremony in Iqaluit on Thursday.
It will take effect on April 1, and the parties will have until April 2027 to complete the process, known as devolution.
The land transfer totals two million square kilometres of land and water and Nunavut will have control over the area’s resources, according to the 239-page document.
“It’s high time. It’s a turning point for Nunavummiut,” former Nunavut premier and land claims negotiator Paul Quassa told CBC News.
Trudeau called the agreement a “historic” day for Canada.
“A lot of work has gone into making today possible,” said Trudeau. “Leaders, negotiators, officials of many stripes have all worked hard for many years for the same goal: for Nunavummiut to have increased control for decisions on their land, waters and resources.”
Nunavut officially joined Canada as a territory in 1999, and negotiations with the federal government over resources and final decision making have been ongoing ever since.
The Yukon and N.W.T. both undertook similar processes as well in 2003 and 2014 respectively.
Negotiations over who would manage the resource development of land and water was among the last areas to sort out, beginning in 2008. An agreement-in-principle on devolution was signed with the territory in 2019.
“It’s like honey, I guess — it’s sweet,” said Quassa, who was part of the land claim negotiations that initially created Nunavut. “This is something I’ve looked forward to since the day we started negotiating with the Nunavut government.”
Employees with the government of Canada whose jobs involve territorial responsibilities, and who work in Nunavut, will be offered the option to transfer jobs with the Nunavut government as of April 1.
“We’ll decide our own future,” said Premier P.J. Akeeagokz. “Before this, it was Ottawa who had the final decision over whether a project would advance.”
Additionally, the Nunavut government will have greater authority to collect royalties from development projects.
“This is something that we had envisioned,” said Quassa. “We are becoming an important player within Canada.”
Nunavut will receive an additional $85 million a year from the federal government as part of the transfer, as well as a one-time funding of $67 million for transitional activities.
Another $15 million will be given for training purposes.
The devolution agreement also means several pieces of legislation will need to be altered or repealed in order to grant power to the Nunavut government, including the Nunavut Act.