TORONTO — RESIDENTS of Canada's Northwest Territories May 4 approved a plan to divide the region and create the self-governing territory of Nunavut.
"We're on the road to Nunavut," says Rosemarie Kuptana, head of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, a native advocate group. Inuit are the majority of the 17,500 native people in the huge territory.
The total population of the new territory is 22,000.
The final vote was 54 percent in favor and 46 percent against. Voter turnout was 56 percent in weather that included flooding in some areas and harsh winter conditions in others. In the east, where the new territory is to be created, the vote ran 90 percent in favor of Nunavut, which means "our land."
The result still leaves divisions, particularly between the Inuit majority in eastern part of Nunavut and the Indian minority in the west. Opponents say the close vote means the boundary should be reevaluated.
"I think it [the decision] is a clear indication to the federal and territorial governments that the people are not happy where the line is," says Bill Erasmus, an Indian leader.
But the decision may be final.
"It's a done deal," says Mike Ballantyne, member of the territorial legislature in Yellowknife "It's time for us to let them [the Inuit] get on with what they want to do."
The new legislature of Nunavut will not be set up until Parliament officially creates the territory in 1999. The western half of the Northwest Territories will be reformed into an as yet unnamed new territory.