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Wednesday, March 31, 1999 Published at 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK

World: Americas

Inuits get Arctic homeland

An Inuit drum dancer rehearses for the celebrations

By Mike Donkin reports from Nunavut in the Arctic

Inuit drum dancers, swathed in caribou skins, twist and stamp the packed snow in a ceremonial igloo. The ritual to celebrate a good hunt will open the festivities on ice which, on 1 April, heralds the recapture from Canada of their peoples' traditional lands.

Mike Donkin: "Nunavut will still rely on welfare payouts and huge subsidies from Canada"
After 50 years of Canadian rule, there are just 25,000 Inuit, and they are finally being handed control over the one fifth of Canada's landmass they have long fought to claim.

As workmen chat in the Inuktitut language, they put finishing touches to the new Assembly building. Its roof is curved like an igloo. The first 'Premier' of Nunavut, Paul Okalik, sports a sealskin waistcoat as another symbol of the better era he would like to bring his people:

[ image: The new government building being built in the traditional style]
The new government building being built in the traditional style
"As an Inuit we can rely on our past and enriching our culture that has been eroded somewhat by different areas of government."

Exploiting Inuit culture is one of the few ways the people of Nunavut can scrape an existence just now. Carving legendary figures and the animals they hunt - the walrus, whales, and polar bears - is a common past-time that goes on in sheds among the snowdrifts.

A fish processing plant is the nearest to mass production that Nunavut boasts. Fifty workers pack turbot caught Eskimo-style through holes cut in the ice.

[ image: There are no roads to link settelments]
There are no roads to link settelments
Under the frozen ground there are more riches to exploit such as lead, zinc and even gold. But this territory still hasn't a single road to link its frontier-style clapboard settlements, and so as mining boss and chamber of trade chief Mike Hines explains, a bonanza is well beyond reach:

"The big problem is there is a lack of infrastructure. You really can't get there from here. If you don't find an ore body specifically within five to ten kilometres of tide water you've got a real problem, it's just not economic to do it."

In Mike Donkin's second report he looks at the problem of suicide amongst Inuits
The truth is that Nunavut will still rely on welfare payouts and huge subsidies from Canada. And the only Inuit likely to thrive are the few who have turned the isolation of their own homeland to their own advantage.

Adamee Itorchiek uses his Japanese skidoo for the morning commute to the office. Adamee's job is a lesson in pragmatism too. He runs the territory's only Internet service - a link for Inuit to talk to the outside world and each other across the Arctic wastes, in a way his parents could never have dreamt.

[ image: Inuits can talk to the outside world on the internet]
Inuits can talk to the outside world on the internet
"My parents were survivors. They were hunting day to day to try and keep themselves alive. But with us, the younger Inuit, we learn to survive in a different way. In one hand I have a harpoon and in the other I have a keyboard under my armpit, so I've had to learn to live with both sides."

The freedom the Inuit are about to grasp may take them far from the ancient paths of their legends. But at least, they believe, they will again be masters of their own destiny.

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