Indigenous Self-Determination in Northern Canada and Norway
Over the last several decades, two circumpolar Indigenous peoples — the Canadian Inuit and the Norwegian Sámi — have made great strides in developing innovative governance regimes to foster greater Indigenous self-determination within their respective states. Their experience, say authors Gary N. Wilson and Per Selle, highlights two different yet complementary dimensions of Indigenous self-determination: self-rule and shared rule. Self-rule is the notion that Indigenous communities should exercise some degree of autonomy over policy decisions at the regional and local levels. Shared rule is the idea that communities should be connected with other, non-Indigenous governments so they can influence decisions that affect them.
The Canadian part of this study reviews developments in four Inuit regions: the territory of Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories, Nunavik in northern Quebec and Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador. Since the 1970s the Inuit in these regions have focused on building institutions of self-rule within the context of a federal system of government, by negotiating land claims agreements and by creating regional governance institutions with varying degrees of jurisdictional authority.
In contrast, the Norwegian Sámi have made considerable progress in developing non-territory-based, shared-rule institutions at the national level, within a unitary system of government. In particular, they established a national Indigenous parliament, the Sámediggi, which represents the Sámi from all parts of the country, provides limited jurisdictional authority in areas such as language, culture and education, and has close links with departments of the Norwegian government.
In recent years, both Indigenous groups have made progress toward creating a better balance between self-rule and shared rule. In Canada, an example is the creation of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, which brings together Inuit leaders and senior Canadian government representatives. A Norwegian example is the establishment of the Finnmark Estate, a land management body whose board is composed of three representatives from the Sámediggi and three from the Finnmark County Council in northern Norway.
Despite the progress in both countries, there is still work to do to. For the Inuit, this means continuing to develop regional governance institutions and creating new structures enabling Inuit representatives to interact with and influence the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The Sámi need to work toward greater regional self-rule as a complement to the institutions of shared rule at the national level.
Although the Inuit and the Sámi continue to face inertia and resistance to change from non-Indigenous governments at all levels, continuing the development of robust and effective institutions of self-rule and shared rule is critical to the success of Indigenous self-determination in Canada and in Norway.