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New Canadian territory poses missions challenge

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BP)–Recently redrawn Canadian territorial boundaries are expected to provide new ministry opportunities in the future.
On April 1, 1999, a third Canadian territory, Nunavut (pronounced NOON-a-voot), will be created from the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories. Primarily home to Canada’s Eskimos, the Inuit, this new territory will encompass 772,000 square miles of windswept tundra, rock and ice extending from the 60th parallel to the North Pole. This is larger than Alaska and California combined.
For Canadian Southern Baptists, the 26,000 people of Nunavut represent another part of this vast country yet to be reached.
“At this time we do not have a strategy to reach Canada’s northern regions, nor anyone responsible for this area,” said Gerry Taillon, language missions/evangelism director for the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists. “Currently, our focus is to plant churches in the highly populated regions of Ontario and Quebec, areas of tremendous need. Obviously, our next focus needs to be to move north.”
Nunavut, meaning “our land” in the Inuit language, is the result of years of effort by the Inuit to settle land claims and gain some form of self-government.
Many hope the opportunity to administrate their own land and its resources will bring new hope to a people struggling with poverty, unemployment, substance abuse and suicide.
The Inuit have traditionally lived off the land, hunting seal, whales, polar bear and other wildlife. Over the years, increasing dependence on the government and movement away from a traditional way of life has taken its toll on their society.
The situation for Inuit young people is particularly tragic. More than 80 percent have been victims of some form of abuse, according to government statistics.
There is such a high suicide rate that a student was quoted in a major Canadian newspaper as having told his teacher, “Don’t worry about us. In a few years we’ll have all killed ourselves anyway.”
Today, most of the income in Nunavut comes from federal welfare payments, with only a small portion from Inuit art, tourism, fishing and mining.
The spiritual needs of Nunavut are great, Taillon said. While the Anglican Church maintains a strong presence, there are only a handful of evangelical churches and missionaries working among the Inuit.
The difference between a province and a territory is that a province owns its land and natural resources. A territory’s land and resources are owned by the federal government and administrated on behalf of the citizens.
Nunavut will be somewhat more than a territory in that the Inuit will receive direct title to more than 136,00 square miles, a financial settlement of $1.15 billion paid out over 14 years (in exchange for giving up claim to over 1 million square miles of territory,) some revenue from mining, oil and natural gas and the right to hunt anywhere in Nunavut. The goal is that in 10 years at least 50 percent of the civil service in Nunavut will be Inuit.
This agreement is one of the largest native land claim settlements ever in the world.

Blackaby is a western Canada regional reporter for the Northwest Baptist Witness.

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  • Kim Blackaby