Case study: Inuit

Context card

Black and white photo of an Inuit family.
Source: NWT Archives, Archibald Fleming fonds, N-1979-050-1122


Inuit are a distinct Indigenous people whose homelands are in northern Canada. For thousands of years, they have governed themselves.

Much of the Arctic, where Inuit live, became part of Canada in the 1880s. Canadian law does not mention Inuit voting rights until the 1930s, when these rights were denied.

Inuit got the right to vote in 1950.

Since then, Inuit have signed land agreements with the federal government across four regions of the Arctic. These agreements created uniquely Inuit democratic systems that exist alongside provincial, territorial and federal systems. Today, Inuit are active in Canada’s elections and democracy.

Activity cards


Black and white photo of a group of Inuit in Kuujjuarapik, Nunavik, Quebec.
Source: A.P. Low, Library and Archives Canada, PA-051445


Canada expands its borders to include the Arctic lands where Inuit live. Inuit are not consulted about this change. In theory, Inuit may be entitled to vote, but the law is not clear.

Inuit continue to govern themselves in their own ways.


Black and white photo of the House of Commons Chamber.
Source: National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque, Library and Archives Canada, PA-801205


Parliament decides that Inuit are legally the same as First Nations peoples when it comes to voting. This means that Inuit are denied the right to vote.

This is the first time Inuit are mentioned in Canadian election law.


Black and white photo of the postmaster for the Eastern Arctic arriving at Pangnirtung, Nunavut.
Source: George Hunter, National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque, Library and Archives Canada, e010692600


The federal presence in the Arctic increases. The government creates new Arctic communities. Federal services like post offices are now available.

Here, the postmaster for the Eastern Arctic arrives at Pangnirtung.


Black and white photo of a cabinet meeting. A group of parliamentarians are seated at a large oval table.
Source: C. Lund, National Film Board of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, PA-196460


Parliament decides that the rights of Inuit and First Nations peoples are not the same after all. Inuit are granted the right to vote in federal elections.

Inuit are not involved in this decision.


Black and white photo taken in Labrador (Nunatsiavut) during an election. Returning officer Harry Nosworthy swears in Joe Millik as an election official.
Source: 1953 – National Film Board of Canada


Inuit vote for the first time in a federal election. Voting services are provided to about half of the Inuit communities in Canada.

Here, returning officer Harry Nosworthy swears in Joe Millik as an election official in Labrador.


Black and white photo of a group of Inuit watching a helicopter taking off in Salluit, Nunavik, Quebec.
Source: Wilfred Doucette, National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque, Library and Archives Canada, PA-111207


In the federal election, voting services are now available to all Inuit.

Voting materials are delivered to remote communities by ship, helicopter and even parachute.


Black and white campaign photo of Peter Ittinuar.
Source: Courtesy of Peter Ittinuar


A new electoral district is created in what is now Nunavut.

When a federal election is held, all three candidates are Inuit. The candidates are Tagak Curley, Abe Okpik and Peter Ittinuar, who is elected.


Information flyer in Inuktitut produced by Elections Canada. There are four images of people. Next to each image, there is text in Inuktitut.
Source: Courtesy of Elections Canada


Elections Canada starts providing voting information in Inuktitut.

This first time is for a referendum.


Photo of the Nunavut legislature, highlighting the circular style of the room.
Source: The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand


The Northwest Territories are divided and the new territory of Nunavut is created.

In Nunavut, most people are Inuit. The circular style of the legislature reflects Inuit values.


Map of Canada where the four Inuit regions, commonly called Inuit Nunangat, are listed and colored: Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik et Nunatsiavut.


All four Inuit regions, known as Inuit Nunangat, now have formal land agreements with Canada.

Canadian Inuit vote for leaders in their own Inuit regions. They also vote in elections at the federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal levels.


Photo of Leona Aglukkaq in the House of Commons.
Source: The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand


Leona Aglukkaq is the first Inuk cabinet minister.

She is elected in the riding of Nunavut and then appointed to be the federal Minister of Health.

Time immemorial to the present

Lithograph print in the shape of a circle. Hills make up the outer edge of the circle. Within are scenes of Arctic life throughout the seasons, such as hunting, kayaking, and dog sledding. Several animals are shown, including a wolf, raven, caribou and owl. At the centre are the sun, moon and stars.
Source: Nunavut (Our Land), Kenojuak Ashevak, 1992, Lithograph on paper, 230 x 370.5 cm. Reproduced with permission from Dorset Fine Arts. Image courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History, UN CD 1993-001, IMG2009-0063-0040-Dm


For thousands of years, Inuit have governed themselves in their homelands. Traditionally, the heads of families took on different leadership roles. Today, leaders are elected. For Inuit, decision making has always involved building consensus.