The people of Nunatsiavut are Inuit. We have occupied the circumpolar regions of the world for longer than 5,000 years. We are descendants of the prehistoric Thule, who were hunters that were drawn to Labrador due to its large amounts of whales and wildlife. We are considered a maritime people, as we are very connected to our environment. We are also one of the founding peoples of Canada.
Our earliest ancestors lived mainly on the north coast of Labrador where they travelled all over to harvest the resources of the land and sea. For thousands of years, we 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 Missionaries present, the Inuit began to change their way of life. Our nomadic and communal lifestyle was not encouraged, and the missionaries unfortunately brought disease that slowly began to wipe out our population. Over time, the Inuit life became more connected to the emerging trade economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, the demise of trade in the 1920s brought further social and economic upheaval. The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Commission of Government took control of the Moravian stores with little success. After Confederation, the Moravian Church, the Grenfell Mission, and the provincial government of Newfoundland suspended services to the northern communities of Hebron, Okak, and Nutak. Residents were abruptly resettled throughout the region that is now known as Nunatsiavut, and the trauma of that move continues to resonate in the present day.
A new beginning for Labrador Inuit
In the 1970s, the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) was formed, and we filed a claim with the Government of Canada. For the next 30 years, we worked hard to promote our culture, our health and well-being, and our Constitutional, democratic, and human rights. Eventually, we finally began our long road to establishing a self-government.
On December 6, 2004, members of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly passed provincial legislation to give effect to the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act. It received Royal Assent the same day.
The Agreement was ratified in when it received Senate approval and received Royal Assent on June 23, 2005 from Canada’s Governor General. The Nunatsiavut Government came into effect on December 5, 2005, and we began preparations for the first ever Nunatsiavut elections. The first elected Nunatsiavut Assembly was sworn in on October 17, 2006.
From prehistory to modern government, the epic story of Labrador Inuit is one of resilience in the face of great change. We are proud of our past. And now, more than ever, we are focused on our future.