The idea of a separate territory, consisting primarily of the Inuit peoples of the eastern Arctic, was first officially proposed in 1976. In 1982, a territorial plebiscite on the issue was held, and the federal government recognized the results as an indication of support for the creation of the new territory. It imposed conditions on this move, however, including the settlement of outstanding land claims and the establishment of a mutually agreeable boundary dividing the Northwest Territories. All of these terms were met, and, on 25 May 1993, the Nunavut Agreement was signed; Parliament passed the relevant enabling legislation the following month.
Implemented in 1999, the Nunavut Agreement provides for the establishment of the territory of Nunavut by division of the Northwest Territories. Under the agreement, Inuit title to 350,000 square kilometres of land is recognized, an arrangement that makes the Inuit the largest land-holding body in North America. The compensation package for title to the remaining lands included $580 million and a $13 million training trust fund. Additional provisions addressed wildlife management and resource revenue sharing. Nonetheless, with a population of 25,000 people residing in a territory that constitutes one fifth the land mass of Canada, Nunavut faces a number of serious difficulties. Chief among them are the lack of qualified personnel and the absence of an administrative apparatus suitable to run the government and support services a territory requires. The federal government will also continue to be the major source of funding for these services. The fact remains, however, that the population of Nunavut is 80 per cent Inuit and this offers an opportunity for government and services to be offered in the language of the people and to make Native interests a priority, a situation unique in Canadian experience.