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Northwest Passage name change
Don't name our backyard without consulting us, says NTI president

Erika Sherk
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, November 26, 2009

NUNAVUT - If the Northwest Passage is going to be renamed, Inuit have to be consulted. This is the message Paul Kaludjak, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) took to Ottawa last month.

NNSL photo/graphic

Paul Kaludjak: Inuit must be consulted before names are changed in Nunavut. - Kassina Ryder/NNSL photo

A private member's bill has passed second reading in the House of Commons to change the name of the famous Arctic waterway. The Northwest Passage is an unofficial name referring to a collection of waterways, says Conservative MP Daryl Cramp. "That's just simply a reference. Each body of water has its own designated name but this is a bit more of a catch-all," Kramp said. He put forward a motion in early October requesting an official change to the unofficial name, to make it the "Canadian" Northwest Passage.

The passage has historically been a sore spot for the Canadian government as it is not internationally recognized as Canadian waters.

"There's no doubt that the area falls within the boundary of Canada, that's indisputable," said Kramp in an interview. "But of course the actual navigational ability within those waters then could be subject to different interpretations by some people."

The MP wanted to include a reminder with the name, he said.

"I just felt it was important for not only the sovereignty of all of Canada but particularly protection of the North, to recognize and solidify and place an even higher focus on the over Canadian identity of [the passage,]" he said.

Kaludjak wrote a letter to Kramp when he heard of the proposed change and was invited to make a presentation before the House of Commons defence committee on Oct. 22.

It's a matter of respect, Kadlujak said. Inuit have to be consulted on changing the names of land or water, under their land claims agreement.

"We told them if they want to name land or waters in Nunavut, they need to come through us," Kaludjak said. "We already have traditional names that people don't know about."

The Inuit name for the passage is Tallurutik, which means "a woman's chin with tattoos on it," Kaludjak said.

"The land has these crevasses, streaks, along the high reaches. They cut into the land from landslides and water going through them and they look like tattoos from afar." Kaludjak said he just wanted to bring the traditional name to the attention of those supporting the name-change.

Decision-makers in Parliament need to remember Inuit rights, he said. "We don't go around re-naming somebody's backyard in Ottawa, for example."

Ludy Pudluk, an elder and former MLA from Resolute, said that he has been thinking a lot about the renaming proposal.

The federal government often forgets to consult Inuit, he said. "They are just looking at sovereignty. They don't see us yet. They don't see the people living up here."

Pudluk travelled the Northwest passage in 1995 when he bought a 22-foot boat in Yellowknife and captained it home to Resolute. Pudluk said that he likes the idea of calling it the 'Inuit Northwest Passage' but added that not everyone in the world knows who the Inuit are. "I think I can go along with the Canadian Northwest Passage," he said.

Kramp said he is amending his proposal and looking at ways to incorporate the Inuktitut name "without of course moving away from the actual prefix of 'Canadian.'" The motion will be debated a third time in Parliament on Nov. 25, he said.

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