Eighteen years after its formal transition into a separate territory — Nunavut’s shield finally joined, on December 13 2017, those of Canada’s other provinces and territories on the refurbished Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill.
For Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, seeing the shield take its rightful place was an emotional end to a long political journey as one of the leaders of the long series of political and land claims negotiations that resulted in the 1999 creation of a separate Nunavut.
“The struggle for the creation of Nunavut for the Inuit people of the Northwest Territories dates back to the early 1970s,” Senator Patterson said. “We were few people dealing with what was one third of the land mass of Canada. It was the settlement of the largest land claim in the world. It was an enormous triumph and a political miracle.”
The shield is a simple yet evocative piece of art; its symbolism speaks to the deep emotional connection Nunavut’s people have with the unique natural beauty and history of their land.
The shield — part of the territory’s coat of arms that was designed by Inuk artist Andrew Qappik — features important symbols of Nunavut: an Inuksuk, a kudlik (or qulliq) and the Niqirtsuituq.
The now world-famous Inuksuit are the stone monuments built to guide travellers and to mark places both sacred and earthly.
“Inuksuit are everywhere in the Arctic,” Senator Patterson said.
“In a land without trees they are important guide posts but not just for navigation. They indicate important places like fishing, game and picnic or camping spots. Inuksuk means ’like a person.’ It is a symbol of the people of the Arctic who established sovereignty for Canada.”
The kudlik is a stone oil lamp, traditionally fueled with whale or seal oil. Prior to diesel generated power, it was the only source of heat and light during the 24-hour days of winter darkness.
“There is probably no more powerful symbol of Inuit struggle and survival than the kudlik,” Senator Patterson said.
“No important meeting takes place without a ceremonial lighting of the kudlik by an elder. It is the symbol of Inuit strength in the harshest environment in the world and it isn’t just light. It is heat, food preparation, drying clothes and boiling water. The kudlik is an example of the genius of Inuit technology and invention.”
The Niqirtsuituq is the North Star; on the shield it sits above a concave arc of five gold circles that refer to the life-giving properties of the sun.
“Nunavut is the North and that’s something all Canadians understand,” Senator Patterson said.
“I’m often asked where I’m from. If I say Nunavut, not everyone connects but if I say the North, everybody understands. It is the true north strong and free in our National Anthem. So that star is a symbol of what and where Nunavut is.”
Senator Patterson, a former Northwest Territories premier and cabinet minister, said he is looking forward to bringing his northern visitors to the Centennial Flame and not having to explain why the Nunavut shield isn’t there.
“People have been looking for it for 18 years,” he said. “For me, to have this important symbol added to our revered Centennial Flame is a bit of closure.”