IQALUIT, Nunavut — The federal and Nunavut governments, as well as a group representing Inuit in the territory, are reviewing a massive plan to formally guide where, how and when land and water can be used in Canada's easternmost territory.
The Nunavut land-use plan covers some 2.1 million square kilometres — a fifth of Canada's land mass. It has been years in the making and has gone through four different drafts since 2007. During that time, the Nunavut Planning Commission has held hundreds of meetings, technical workshops, hearings and interviews across the territory's 25 communities and in northern Manitoba.
"We are confident the NPC has submitted a balanced, responsible and approvable 2023 land-use plan that reflects the vision of Inuit," commission chair Andrew Nakashuk said in a statement.
Sharon Ehaloak, executive director of the commission, said balancing diverse and sometimes competing interests has been an overarching challenge. Governments, residents, hunters, trappers, industry and environmental organizations have all weighed in.
The plan includes requirements for key wildlife habitat, contaminated sites, military facilities, community areas of interest and drinking water. It aims to balance economic, environmental and social needs.
Jonathan Savoy, directory of policy and planning with the commission, said one of the most important changes to the current plan is a distinct approach to managing Inuit-owned lands. He said the change would allow Inuit associations in the territory to provide exemptions in areas that have year-round prohibitions.
"It gives them an extra power or authority to authorize normally prohibited projects if they support them," he said. "That was a direct response to concerns identified through the planning process."
Other alterations include changing caribou post-calving areas from having year-round prohibitions to seasonal restrictions, which Savoy said better balances conservation and economic development.
He said the plan also identifies additional key caribou habitats in the Qikiqaaluk region as well as more Arctic char fishing rivers, which are protected from development.
Savoy said the three signatories could accept or reject the recommended land-use plan or request modifications. He said there is no legislated timeline for when that must take place.
"At this point it's in their hands and its future is determined by their reaction to it," he said.
Nunavut Environment Minister Joanna Quassa said in a statement that she looks forward to reviewing the plan with the federal minister of Northern Affairs and the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land-claims body representing Nunavut Inuit.
"The important work of reviewing the plan will happen over the next several months as approval authorities collaborate to make sure it protects and promotes the existing and future well-being of Inuit and Nunavummiut, taking into account the interests of all Canadians," the department said in a statement.
The land-use plan is a legal requirement under the Nunavut Agreement, which was passed by parliament 30 years ago and established Nunavut as a territory in 1999.
The Nunavut Planning Commission said the plan will "further advance Inuit self-determination, provide certainty for land users and could significantly contribute to Canada's conservation targets."
Once approved, Ehaloak said the plan will be a living document that is subject to review.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2023.
— By Emily Blake in Yellowknife
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press