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Jull, Peter --- "A Blueprint for Indigenous Self - Government: The Bathurst Mandate" [2000] IndigLawB 14; (2000) 4(27) Indigenous Law Bulletin 14

A Blueprint for Indigenous Self-Government:
The Bathurst Mandate

by Peter Jull

The Bathurst Mandate is a statement of priorities developed in a series of workshops held by the Cabinet of the new government of Nunavut, Canada’s Inuit territory which became self-governing in April 1999.[1] The document was unveiled on October 21, 1999, although the opening speech in Nunavut's Westminster-style Parliament the previous day (the so-called 'Speech from the Throne'),[2] was based largely on this document.[2]

Indigenous peoples living under ‘welfare colonialism’ – as Jeremy Beckett has described the situation in the Torres Strait and as his former colleague, Robert Paine, has written of Nunavut – face very particular problems.[3] The answer for governments is not, as some current Australian politicians seem to think, to return to the nineteenth century with Neo-Victorian visions and scoldings,[4] but rather to respect and recognise resurgent pride and work out appropriate new arrangements.[5]

The creation of Nunavut, (a territory covering one-fifth of Canada, an area slightly larger than Queensland, but with fewer than 30,000 people), exemplifies the problem. As an initial program, the Bathurst Mandate is an achievement in itself, and is something of a departure from the usual flim-flam of official pronouncements in ‘First World’ countries today. Even where it sounds familiar, its meaning is subtly but significantly different. Rather than grandiose talk about economics, it looks social problems straight in the eye.

'Our hopes and plans for Nunavut' are set out in the document in four broad categories identified for action under the heading Pinasuaqtavut - 'that which we've set out to do':

Under each section there is a sentence or short statement of belief, some principles, the vision for Nunavut in the year 2020, and finally a one - to five-year action plan.

Inuusiqattiarniq: Healthy Communities

The concept ‘Inuusiqattiarniq’, means ‘the healthy inter-connection of mind, body, spirit and environment’.[6] This vision of a personal, family and community ideal is the sort of talk one hears often in Inuit, Indian, and Aboriginal communities. It is usually quiet and painful talk as people recall specific tragedies and the malfunction of a society caught between externally imposed change and insensitive government policy. But sometimes this kind of discussion can also become the basis for an agenda for renewal, as here in Nunavut, or at the first Torres Strait cultural conference in January 1992.[7]

Guiding principles in this section of the Bathurst Mandate include: ‘We acknowledge and will respond to the challenges of substance abuse, violence and loss as individuals, families and communities.’[8] But when other items in the same section say, ‘People are responsible and accountable for their own well being’, and that ‘Nunavut needs to provide options and opportunities’ to help them, or that ‘building the capacity of communities’ is required, there is a special history.[9] All-intrusive government programs from the 1950s onward which sought to build a new north brought massive disruption and the breakdown of Inuit social systems and controls, and created a sense of local powerlessness. This became a major motivation for the whole-hearted Inuit commitment to Nunavut.

Closer to home, the basic Inuit values of the autonomy of individuals and extended families have often prevented effective community action. The text of the Bathurst Mandate suggests that if Nunavut is to succeed, then there has to be a change: all inhabitants of Nunavut will have to work together and accept the challenge of creating a civic culture. Capacity Plans and Wellness Plans are cited as actions to be implemented in the future, but these are of course only meaningful if individuals and communities do their part.[10] The first item listed in the vision for 2020 is that ‘self-assured, caring communities respond to the needs of individuals and families.’[11]

Another commitment to action made here which may strike outsiders as strange is to ‘develop, with our land claims partners, a new Wildlife Act that recognises the co-management regime of our resources.’[12] Availability of what Canadians call 'country food' (bush tucker), and the life of the hunting camp which even the most urbanised Inuit practise for their personal psychological well-being whenever possible, are seen as essential in the new Nunavut just as in the old. The dual governing authorities for the new Nunavut government are firstly the Nunavut Parliament and secondly the Inuit-only land claims corporations which are constitutionally recognised under the Nunavut Act date? and Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act date?of the Federal Parliament. All Inuit are born into these corporations and their membership rights are extended to immediate dependents, for example, non-indigenous spouses. Joint policy-making, or ‘co-management’, implies stronger stronger powers for indigenous people in Canada than when used occasionally in Australia,[13] and is the foundation of the Nunavut land (and sea) claims settlement in respect of territory, species, and related livelihoods.[14]

With the strong ‘sustainable development’ ethic in Nunavut, and the strong institutions inherited or newly created, and the negotiation of new framework agreements, Nunavut should quickly become the world leader in ecologically sustainable development and its related public administration. As usual with Canadian indigenous reforms, the people concerned – Inuit, in this case – have already re-shaped and expanded national political culture through years of information, argument, and negotiation, while only now being resourced to solve their own practical and immediate problems locally.

Pijarnirnirqsat Katujjiqatiriittiarnirlu: Simplicity and Unity

The opening words of this section identifies one of the make or break issues for the success of Nunavut: ‘We believe that Simplicity in the processes of government encourages access by all; makes the tasks more focused and more achievable; and invites participation.’[15] Unless modern governance is made controllable by people in small places, indigenous self-government may have little future.[16] Too often a few lucky or ambitious leaders take control of the white experts and the arcane mysteries of corporate organisation in remote headquarters, with all the trappings of power. The leaders become inaccessible, their people become alienated, and all the idealism and political energy are dissipated. The furious battles and deep divisions at times between tribal government and regional corporations in Native Alaska highlight this dangerous pothole on the road to self-determination.[17]

This is in fact how the Northwest Territories (NWT) government failed. Created in its full-blown form in 1966-67, officials in the NWT government were full of idealistic aspirations that the new government would truly ‘empower’ indigenous peoples.[18] The error however, was that officials were too ready to borrow a Southern Canadian model off the shelf when government should have been reinvented from the ground up. Meeting national standards rather than meeting indigenous needs became the priority and led to various administrative structures and programs which were more suited to the agendas of southern non-indigenous whites than to the unique needs of northern indigenous peoples. The emphasis on culturally appropriate local solutions in the Bathurst Mandate, suggests that Nunavut has learnt from those earlier NWT mistakes.

The tradition of local self-government which has been developing in Nunavut over many years was neglected somewhat in the initial hiring process for Nunavut Government positions. Many key jobs were filled directly from Outside, a fact which made many Inuit and their leaders suspicious of too big a Southern Canadian hand in their affairs. In fact, this actually helped the trusted local boy, Paul Okalik, win the Premiership over his more ‘experienced’ political rivals in the first Nunavut election in February 1999. His own new Deputy Minister[19] is the respected northern native rights lawyer, Anne Crawford, whose conflict of interest inquiry brought down the NWT Premier in 1998 and saw many of his Cabinet put under a cloud. Crawford's attack on the integrity of the political establishment also influenced the outcome of the February 1999 Nunavut election, and some high profile favourites among the candidates were not elected.

Another important event relevant to the Bathurst Mandate was Premier Okalik’s announcement in September last year of plans to create Maligarnit Qimirrujiit, the Nunavut Law Reform Commission, to review the laws inherited from the NWT and revise them in the light of Inuit custom, social culture, and needs.[20] This Commission will consider extensive public consultations as well as expert advice.

The creation of Nunavut is in itself a strong statement of culture and values, and of the desire to maintain a way of life and design a future for a unique society, but it is also a reaction to bad, insensitive, failed or inadequate government. The Nunavut movement was fuelled by issues like inadequate local health services which lead to medical evacuations to Southern Canada, the alienation and horrors of school residences, assimilationist policies in education, the incompetent mis-counting by Government officials of caribou herds and the hardship caused by severe quotas for Inuit who lived from their meat and skins, the apparently total environmental stupidity and recklessness of governments and industry, and the social discrimination and lavish benefits enjoyed by whites working in the old administration.[21] Inuit had no desire to be a maritime minority fringe in a large jurisdiction whose population and power centres were far to the west in an inland world of Dene, Métis,[22] and whites.

In late 1983, Nunavut's Inuit leaders toured throughout Nunavut to consult communities on the constitutional framework and philosophy for the new territory.[23] One of the two items of universal concern was that enough Inuit should be trained urgently to run the new administration – and in the Inuit language, Inuktitut – so that it would not simply be a re-run of well-meaning whites turning Inuit lives upside down with their bright ideas. The other issue identified universally was the demand for maximum Inuit rights, roles, management, and decision-making in respect of the Arctic seas.[24] The Simplify and Unify section of The Bathurst Mandate recalls what was on the lips of Nunavut people themselves then and now, that ‘Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit [‘the Inuit way of doing things’ or ‘the knowledge of Inuit ways’], will provide the context in which we develop an open, responsive and accountable government’.[25] The accessibility of Nunavut government to Inuit is something as surprising and impressive to visitors as its remoteness and lack of links with Southern Canada. The formality and exclusiveness with which European peoples conduct business are unknown, although Inuit have their own strong sense of cultural propriety.[26]

Namminiq Makitajunarniq: Self-Reliance

The last of several principles enunciated in this section is that ‘Nunavut can and will contribute to our country as a committed and active participant in the life of Canada and to the circumpolar world as an active Arctic neighbour’.[27] This sort of idealism is not just official rhetoric; it is strongly felt in the homes and meeting places of Nunavut. Inuit are so committed to the success of their new government claims settlement – an arrangement which goes far beyond claiming this or that bit of land or sea territory – that the challenge for Canada and the federal government will be providing sufficient support of the right kinds to see the whole project through inevitable early difficulties. Implementing any new government office, function or jurisdiction is tricky, and in the case of a whole new government with a unique culture, language, and political economy, this is especially so. Here the earlier Inuit experience in Alaska’s North Slope Borough and in Greenland under the Home Rule Act [28] may be most valuable to Nunavummiut, ‘the people of Nunavut’.[29]

It would astonish many Nunavummiut to know how much they have already contributed to Canada. Their persistence and determination which now ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’,[30] ie, Nunavut, has forced Canadians and their governments to review many assumptions and habits of public policy, and has expanded the national outlook. In the international arena, Nunavummiut and other Inuit from Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Siberian Chukotka[31] have not only brought the problems of the Arctic region and its environment to world attention in a way which military and scientific personnel, although thick on the ground, were never able to do, but they have also been showing that they have answers. The entire new approach to resource management, co-management, and so on flows from the feisty resolve of Inuit and other northern peoples in the face of the new quest for ‘frontier resources’, as governments call the increasing frenzy to find oil, gas, minerals, and hydro-electric sources in previously unsearched areas of the globe.[32] Inuit have been able to link their work on such matters to the achievement of their political aspirations in a way which could be developed even further in Australia. Inuit have demonstrated through their superior knowledge of marine species and their conservation needs that their environmental and social aspirations are exemplary and even of direct benefit to non-indigenous Canadians.

Good communications and public relations are essential, because the big battles which Inuit face are matters of global environmental degradation, like industrial pollutants brought by the Gulf Stream and north-flowing Eurasian rivers into the shallow circulating Arctic Ocean, and national and international agendas determined by other peoples and governments. Inuit have won out in the end partly through the power and targeting of their communications strategies. Interest in the Arctic is growing, especially through the spread of documentary TV and much else, so this could be a long-term asset for any Inuit group. Nunavummiut and other Inuit would also do well to crank up their internet sites and fill them with information in order to ride the wave of the world’s current interest in their progress.[33]

Ilippallianginnarniq: Continuing Learning

‘Learning’, is identified as one of the two major program priorities (the other being housing) for the government’s five-year term: ‘A government wide effort to support training and learning for a Nunavut based workforce as one of the two primary commitments of this government’s mandate’.[34] As in Alaska's North Slope Borough from the 1970s, one of the plans is to ‘View every element of the government budget [ie, in whatever field] as a potential training budget’.[35] The Borough made training and re-training an element of every contract let for its massive and comprehensive rebuilding of the region’s communities, services, and infrastructure, as well as providing the highest per-student spending of any school system on earth.[36]

The other key element of this Learning section is strengthening, broadening, and making more active wherever it is passive the use of the Inuktitut language.[37] Some federal internal studies have tried to dismiss the future of Inuktitut or its utility in modern administration or other daily affairs, a strange remnant of Anglo-centric thinking given the Canada’s public culture of multilinguistic tolerance initiated as long ago as the late seventies with the famous ‘B&B’ commission; the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.[38]

The Bathurst Mandate is heartening; too often new indigenous governments and authorities show an enthusiasm for adopting mainstream assimilationist models which the governments from which have supposedly declared independence could hardly have hoped for. Assimilation under local leaders can be quicker and less painful, but it is still assimilation. New indigenous leaders are naturally anxious to show others in their new orbit that they are urbane and confident, and indigenous people like the Inuit certainly need their own experts, comfortable in the worldly ways and professions outside their hunter-gatherer traditions. The achievements in so many fields by Inupiat Inuit individuals in north and north-west Alaska are undoubtedly a key to those regions’ confident and tough-minded successes since the 1960s. But Canadian Inuit leaders have also continued to live just like other Inuit in the mixed traditional-contemporary lifestyle of Arctic villages, while conducting business in business suits in southern capitals as needed. This continued connection to Inuit cultural roots has been a source of strength. Some radical outsiders may claim that the Inuit are too moderate, but they are arguably more authentic representatives of their people and communities than leaders in many other ethno-cultural communities.

Of course, Nunavut faces many problems.[39] The big-spending years of federal governments in Canada are over, although the federal budget has moved into surplus again. One hopes that Nunavummiut will be able to consolidate their old ‘new’ territory with the same gritty patience with which they have survived for so long in the Arctic, and with which they have won this constitutional novelty in the face of initial official ignorance or indifference.

Peter Jull worked with Inuit leaders on the political and constitutional development of Nunavut. He is now Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Queensland.

[1] The Bathurst Mandate, from Bathurst Inlet [Qingauq], Nunavut, Final Version (English), [Government of Nunavut], October 1, 1999 (Tabled in Nunavut Legislative Assembly, 21November1999), 8 pp. Available at: <>. For background on Nunavut, see P Jull, ‘Reconciliation & Northern Territories, Canadian-Style: The Nunavut Process and Product’, (1999) 4 (20) ILB 4.[]

[2] J Bell, ‘Nunavut’s October throne speech: Poetry, dreams, but few specifics’, Main story, Nunatsiaq News, (October 22, 1999).

[3] J Beckett, Torres Strait Islanders: custom and colonialism, Cambridge University Press (1987); R Paine(ed), The White Arctic: Anthropological Essays on Tutelage and Ethnicity, (Social and Economic Paper No 7, Memorial University of Newfoundland) (1977); M Boldt, Chapters 3 & 4, Surviving as Indians: The Challenge of Self-Government (1993); T Alfred, Peace, Power, Righteousness: an indigenous manifesto (1999).

[4] Eg, J Herron, Speech to United Nations, Geneva, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Canberra, (July 29, 1999). Online: <>.

[5] P Dodson, Until the Chains Are Broken, Fourth Annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lectures, Northern Territory University, Darwin, (August 27, 1999).

Online: <>.

Also, P Jull P & H Kajlich H, ‘First Peoples, Late Admissions: Recognising Indigenous Rights’, Conference paper for 1999 Fulbright Symposium, Dept of Government, University of Queensland, Brisbane, (1999).

[6] The Bathurst Mandate, p 1.

[7] ICC???, Dreams, Visions and Sharks in the Stars over Zenadh, Detailed Unofficial Summary of Conference, Our Culture – Maintenance and Preservation of Torres Strait Culture, Notes by P Jull, Island Coordinating Council (1992).

[8] Ibid 1.

[9] Ibid, 1

[10] Ibid, 2.

[11] Ibid, 1.

[12] Ibid, 1.

[13] N Sharp, 'Handing on the Right to Fish: The Law of the Land and Cross-Cultural Co-operation in a Gulf Community in Australia', Conference paper, School of Sociology and Anthropology, La Trobe University, Victoria (1997).

[14] The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is online: <>.

See also B J Richardson, D Craig & B Boer, Regional agreements for indigenous lands and cultures in Canada, (1995).

[15] The Bathurst Mandate, 3.

[16] Eg, P Jull, Politics, Development and Conservation in the International North (1986).

[17] This was simmering underneath Tom Berger’s fine report, Village Journey: The Report of the Alaska Native Review Commission (1985).

[18] The author was assistant to successive heads of government in the Northwest Territories in the 1960s during the creation of the NWT government.

[19] Known in Canada as permanent secretary.

[20] J Bell, ‘Maligarnit Qimirrujiit body will review Nunavut’s law’, Nunatsiaq News, Iqaluit, (October 1, 1999).

[21] Of course, the dissidence of all indigenous peoples, formally revealed by the NWT Legislative Assembly itself in its famous Unity (!) Committee report of 1980, and the unrelenting Inuit demand for Nunavut, kept the NWT administration’s nose very much to the reform grindstone. That being said, the federal administration preceding and the NWT government itself have a record of official accommodation and commitment to indigenous well-being rare anywhere in the world, and rich in positive lessons for others, not least the seven Canadian provincial ‘northern territories’ lying immediately south of Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut. The 1980 report is R MacQuarrie, Report of the Special Committee on Unity to the 3rd Session of the 9th Assembly at Frobisher Bay, October 22, 1980, Tabled Document No 16-80, Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, (1980).

[22] Dene are the Indian peoples of northern Canada living along the tree-line from Hudson Bay westwards to the Pacific; Métis are the mixed-race descendants of Indian and white unions.

[23] Nunavut Constitutional Forum. Building Nunavut: a working document with a proposal for an Arctic Constitution, (1984) Reprinted in National and Regional Interests in the North, Proceedings of 3rd National Workshop, Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, Ottawa, (date?) 141-170.

[24] For a brief report on this crucial political tour, see P Jull, ‘Nunavut Constitutional Tour’, (1984) 1 Inuit, 3-4.

[25] The Bathurst Mandate, 3.

[26] The best introduction to Inuit culture and realities may be D Damas, Vol 5, Arctic, Handbook of North American Indians [sic], (1984).

[27] The Bathurst Mandate, 4.

[28] Eg, G A McBeath & T A Morehouse, The Dynamics of Alaska Native Self-Government (1980); and, L T Rasmussen, 'Greenlandic and Danish Attitudes to Canadian Arctic Shipping' in F Griffiths (ed), Politics of the Northwest Passage (1987) 134-159 [note 290]. Despite its title, Rasmussen’s article surveys the formation and early experience of Greenland Inuit governance.

[29] This five syllable term is stressed on the third syllable, pronounced [noo na VOO mee oot] and is used throughout Nunavut today.

[30] W Shakespeare, V, i, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

[31] The north-eastern peninsula of Siberia which reaches to within a few miles of Alaska.

[32] P Jull, '‘First world’ indigenous internationalism after twenty-five years', (1998) 4 (9) ILB 13-16.

[33] The new national Canadian Inuit site is promising: <>.

[34] The Bathurst Mandate, 6.

[35] Ibid, 6

[36] Interviews by the author in Barrow, North Slope, Alaska, August 1984.

[37] The Bathurst Mandate, 6-7.

[38] A Laurendeau & D Dunton, Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism Final Report, 6 vols issued over 4 years (1967-70). Greenland uses as its official language a dialect very closely related to the Nunavut dialects of Inuktitut, although Danish remains in official use and learning alongside Greenlandic. Inuktitut is in flourishing use in Greenland for writing all legislation and for most other uses. In 1980, when the first large-scale visit by Nunavummiut and other Canadian Inuit leaders to Greenland took place after only 14 months of Home Rule, the thorough-going use of Inuit language there, and a national cabinet composed entirely of Inuit, made a very strong impression.The visit was reported in P Jull, ‘Diplomats of a New North’, (1981) 2 (2) Policy Options 21-26.

[39] A fine up to date survey of Nunavut is M Soublière & G Coleman (eds), Nunavut ’99: Changing the Map of Canada,(1999).

Online at: <>.

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