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A minority within a minority?

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Tansi Ninôtemik,


Today's post introduces us to the inhabitants of the land, water, and ice known as the Inuit Nunangat.[1] The land, water, and ice are integral to Inuit identity, and ways of being.


Are the Inuit a minority within a minority?

Numerically, yes. With a population dispersed across 51 communities and four regions—the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Quebec, and Nunatsiavut of Newfoundland and Labrador—the Inuit make up a small percentage of both the Canadian population (0.18%) and the Indigenous community (0.4%).[2] Therefore, Inuit face distinctive challenges as a minority within a minority.


However, Indigenous peoples' distinct legal and historical status sets them apart from the concept of traditional minorities in Canada. The distinction arises from the legal recognition of Indigenous peoples' unique status as the original inhabitants of this land. Indigenous peoples have distinct rights and a unique legal status under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which distinguishes them from minority groups despite their now reduced population.[3] This special status is grounded in the recognition of their inherent rights that pre-date the “creation” of Canada.


The Inuit are an extremely resilient and young population. Despite navigating the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis, living through the disc system, forced isolation, and the slaughter of over twenty thousand of their dogs, many Inuit remain traditional, and around 60% of Inuit can speak Inuktitut.[4] Many Inuit harvest seals, narwhal and caribou in order to provide for their communities.[5]



Inuit Maligarjuat

Elder thinking among the Inuit is guided by four primary cultural laws: prioritizing the common good over personal gain, fostering respectful relationships with every entity encountered, maintaining harmony and balance, and preparing for the future.[6] Inuit children absorb these laws through stories, integrating them into their developing personalities—a process known as Inunnguiniq.[7]


Within Inuit law, emphasis is placed on alleviating guilt rather than solely pursuing justice. The approach involves acknowledging wrongdoing, committing to change, seeking the truth, and restoring community balance. Grave instances that lead to banishment are viewed as failures on the part of those responsible for the individual's upbringing and may indicate a lack of adequate ability.[8] The educational process underscores the importance of imparting skills aligned with individuals' capabilities. The goal is for laws to become internalized by community members, leading to enhanced social well-being.[9]


Inuit advocate for maligarjuat to be applied as valid law, and have encountered challenges based on the specific territorial and provincial jurisprudence where they reside.



Inuit Governance

In the mid-1970s, recognition of Inuit governance systems began, granting varying degrees of autonomy in public policy management. The ISR, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut are within Canada's provincial and territorial boundaries, leading to differing levels of collaboration involving Inuit self-government, public government, and Inuit self-governance.[10]


Inuit self-government involves regional bodies overseen by specific Inuit communities, while Inuit self-governance operates independently but wields significant regional political and economic influence.[11]


Nunatsiavut employs a fused Inuit self-government structure, Nunavik adopts a mixed system, Nunavut combines public and Inuit self-governance, and the ISR relies exclusively on Inuit self-governance.[12]



Leading jurisprudence from Nunavut

The interaction between public and Inuit self-governance in the standalone territory of Nunavut, as reflected in cases before the Nunavut Court of Justice and the Nunavut Court of Appeal reveals insights into judicial pluralism, offering both promising and cautionary perspectives.


In R v Itturiligaq, Bychok J invoked Inuit traditional knowledge and worldview- Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (“IQ”) principles to challenge a mandatory minimum sentence, aligning more closely with community perspectives.[13] This emphasizes reintegration and considers the impact of community separation, in line with Inuit societal values. However, challenges persist, as deterrence and denunciation remain hard to ignore, suggesting that current Canadian sentencing law may impede the full realization of IQ principles.


Conversely, the Nunavut Court of Appeal case R v Ippak presents a more favourable view of judicial pluralism.[14] Berger JA engaged with Inuit maligait, leading to the exclusion of evidence, the quashing of a conviction, and the acquittal of the accused.[15] This case guides judges in addressing divergences between Canadian and Indigenous laws, adopting a more deferential approach to Inuit maligait.


These cases demonstrate increased legal plurality. The recognition and implementation of Indigenous laws, which are often deeply rooted in cultural traditions and community values, differ significantly from the legal frameworks imposed by colonial powers.


There is much work to be done, but there are increasingly more opportunities to reconcile these differences, guided by precedents set in Nunavut.


Look forward to more content on the Inuit in our 2024 zine series.


See you Friday!


-The ReconciliACTION YEG Team




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Citations

[1] Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, “About Canadian Inuit” (2013), online: Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami <https://www.itk.ca/about-canadian-inuit/#:~:text=Inuit%20are%20an%20Indigenous%20people,our%20homeland%20since%20time%20immemorial>.

[2] Government of Canada, “Census profile, 2021 Census of Population” (1 February 2023), online: Statistics Canada <https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm>.

[3] Constitution Act, 1982, s 35, being schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.

[4] Supra note 1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Joe Karetak, Frank Tester & Shirley Tagalik, eds, Inuit Quajimajatugangit: What Inuit Have Always Known to Be True, (Halifax & Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2017) at 3.

[7] Ibid at 4.

[8] Ibid at 5.

[9] Ibid at 6.

[10] Canadian Studies Center, “Nested Federalism and Inuit Governance in the Canadian Arctic (2021)” (11 May 2021) at 00h:23m:33s, online (video): YouTube <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qkr9QweL6WU>.

[11] Ibid at 00h:15m:47s.

[12] Ibid at 00h:17m:26s.

[13] Don Couturier, "Judicial Reasoning Across Legal Orders: Lessons from Nunavut" (2020) 45:2 Queen's LJ 319 at 322.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid at 343-346.

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