Nunavut devolution

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Northern governance and the transfer or devolution of responsibilities and powers to the territories is a long-standing policy objective of the Government of Canada. Devolution in Nunavut is an essential step in the political and economic development of the territory.

Since the 1960s, the federal government has gradually transferred responsibility to territorial governments for matters such as:

Discussions to transfer and devolve responsibilities and powers for land and resource management to the Government of Nunavut have taken place at various times since the creation of the territory.

These responsibilities are currently held within Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. By devolving these responsibilities to the territory, the parties aim to give Nunavummiut greater control for decisions on lands and resources, thereby strengthening regional governance and accountability while opening the door to new revenue streams and economic development opportunities.

Significant progress has been made in northern devolution with Yukon successfully managing its own land and natural resource since 2003, and the Northwest Territories devolution took effect in 2014.

How devolution works

Many responsibilities that used to be exercised by the federal government have been transferred to territorial governments over the years. These include health care, education, municipal services, and in the Northwest Territories and Yukon the management of public lands and resources.

There are typically 5 phases to a devolution process:

Signing of the Nunavut devolution agreement-in-principle

The parties to the Nunavut devolution process are:

On August 15, 2019 the parties signed an agreement-in-principle which will now serve as a guide for the negotiation of a final devolution agreement in Nunavut.

The Lands and Resources Devolution Negotiation Protocol, which was signed in 2008 by the Government of Canada, Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, was the first major step towards Nunavut devolution. The protocol has served as a framework to guide the parties during devolution negotiations toward an AIP. AIP negotiations formally began in October 2014.

Chief Negotiators for the Government of Canada, Government of Nunavut, and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated initialled a draft AIP in May 2019 and recommended it to their principals for signature. Section 35 Crown consultations with Indigenous groups holding asserted or established Aboriginal or treaty rights in Nunavut began shortly after the AIP was initialled.

Consult the AIP:

Note: Inuktitut translation of the Nunavut Devolution AIP is available on the Government of Nunavut website.

Nunavut Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement-in-Principle


The chief negotiators initialled a draft AIP in May 2019 and recommended it to their principles for signature. Section 35 Crown consultations with Indigenous groups holding asserted or established Aboriginal or treaty rights in Nunavut began shortly afterward after the AIP was initialled.

What an agreement-in-principle is

An AIP, is:

  • An agreement between the parties on the main issues under negotiation
  • a significant milestone in the negotiation process indicating that the parties have come to agreement on a broad range of subject matters

While not legally enforceable, the AIP generally contains the major elements of the final devolution agreement.

Generally, an AIP indicates:

  • which parties will have jurisdiction over which responsibilities
  • when and how that transfer of responsibilities will take place
  • details of the funding levels to be transferred along with the associated responsibilities

Nunavut's AIP pertains to the official transfer of responsibilities for Nunavut's public lands, water and natural resources from the Government of Canada to the Government of Nunavut.

The AIP provides for the development and approval of human resources development strategies and identifies:

  • financial resources required for completing and carrying out the devolved responsibilities
  • the scope and conditions of the transfer

Section 35 consultations

The Crown's duty to consult stems from section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, providing constitutional recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada.

During the devolution process, the Government of Canada has consulted and continues to consult with Indigenous groups adjacent to Nunavut who may have Aboriginal or treaty rights or interests within Nunavut.

If something in it needs to change, or if it needs to be added to, because of concerns raised by other Indigenous groups, such changes can be made between the signing of the AIP and the Final Devolution Agreement.

After the agreement-in-principle is signed

The AIP will serve as a basis to develop a final devolution agreement.

It will take approximately 5 years from signing the AIP to when all responsibilities are formally transferred to the Government of Nunavut.

The timeline allows for:

  • negotiation of a final devolution transfer agreement
  • training for certain positions within the Government of Nunavut
  • negotiation of an implementation schedule
  • drafting of legislation to create the legal framework needed for the Government of Nunavut to take over the responsibilities

Read the AIP here:

Nunavut Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement-in-Principle

Nunavut is ready for devolution

Nunavut has been negotiating for and preparing to take over decision making for land management for many years. The same process has been successfully undertaken in the other territories.

Existing responsibilities will be transferred, with the personnel and the legislative authority for them.

Since the protocol, the parties have been keenly aware of the challenges of implementing devolution in Nunavut. Additional measures have been taken to ensure a smooth transition. These include:

  • an approximate 5-year timeframe to prepare for implementation
  • additional funding and to develop and implement targeted training both before and after the transfer date

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