In Québec, the Inuit live in Nunavik, a vast territory located north of the 55th parallel. The population of Nunavik, home to some 12,000 Inuit, is spread out over 14 villages with 100 to 1,700 inhabitants. These villages, located hundreds of kilometres apart, are located on the shores of Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay. Approximately 100 Inuit live in Chisasibi, a Cree village in James Bay.
Well adapted to the harsh conditions, the Inuit have long dominated the Arctic region. They traditionally used bows and arrows, kayaks and dog sleds to hunt polar bears, marine mammals and caribou. In the 18th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a trading post in Kuujjuarapik, which facilitated contact between Europeans and the Inuit without really changing the Inuit way of life.
However, a major shift occurred in the early 20th century when Inuit hunters abandoned their traditional weapons in favour of firearms. After World War II, Inuit society was significantly impacted by the introduction of the first federal government programs, particularly in education, health care and housing. The Inuit subsequently settled for the long term, and their social, political and economic structure increasingly began to reflect that of societies further south.
Since the second half of the 20th century, the challenge for the Inuit has been to maintain a balance between their values, their language, their culture and the modern world, to which they must adapt, while maintaining harmonious relations with the rest of Québec.
In Nunavik, the Inuit administer most of the public services provided to the population. The signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) led to the creation of several Inuit-led institutions, including the Kativik Regional Government and the Makivik Corporation. The latter, which works independently and in partnership with various Québec government departments, oversees the region’s administration and development in all sectors of public activity.
The Kativik Regional Government, whose board is made up of representatives of northern municipalities, has jurisdiction in supramunicipal administration, economic development, transportation, policing, telecommunications and wildlife protection.
The Makivik Corporation serves as the voice of the Inuit with respect to the protection of their rights and interests related to the JBNQA. It manages compensation and has a mandate to promote the social and economic development of the territory. The Corporation is a major economic driver in Nunavik in several sectors of activity, such as air and sea transportation, as well as food and fishing.
The cooperative movement has also played a major role in the economic development of Nunavik, leading to the creation of the Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec (FCNQ). Along with the Makivik Corporation, the FCNQ is the area’s main economic engine, primarily serving the retail, oil supply and telecommunications sectors.
In 2002, the Québec government and the Inuit signed an economic partnership agreement to accelerate the development of Nunavik. Called the Sanarrutik Agreement, it contains provisions for hydroelectric resources, mining and park development. In 2004, the Sivunirmut Agreement enhanced this agreement by consolidating the funding of government programs into a single resource envelope. This simplified the management of funds and gave the Kativik Regional Government greater autonomy to establish its priorities for initiatives involving northern villages.