Makivvik has published an atlas of community land selection maps that describe the Inuit land selection process associated with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), and the challenges the Inuit faced during the four-year negotiations from 1975 to 1979. It shows where the Inuit wanted Category I and II lands delineated, and what exactly they ended up with after Hydro-Québec and the Quebec government had their say. (According to the 1974 JBNQA Agreement in Principle, Category I lands are owned by the Inuit and are to be selected for community purposes, including economic development, and for community protection from industrial development. Category II lands are selected for exclusive Inuit hunting, fishing and trapping.)

As explained in the first few pages of the atlas a report, titled “The History of Nunavik Category I and II Land Selections (1975-1979),” was presented at the Nunavik Landholding Corporation Association’s (NLCA) 2015 AGM in Montreal. The differences between lands selected by Inuit and what they were forced to accept were attributed to: unreasonable deadlines, limited resources, lack of experience and guiding policy, absence of federal government support, restrictive land selection criteria imposed by the Quebec government, and the Quebec government’s concern about how Quebecers would respond to the visual impact of selections on the map of Northern Quebec. 

This atlas, Looking Back, Moving Forward: An Atlas of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement Inuit Community Land Selections, 1975-1979, expands on that report. In its foreword, written by Makivvik President Charlie Watt and NLCA President Maggie Emudluk in March 2019, it states that over the past four decades Nunavik’s economic and social realities have changed, and that “in the spirit of reconciliation, empowerment and self-determination,” critical aspects of the JBNQA must be revisited, including the amount of lands Inuit own and control.

The foreword says this atlas is a “valuable tool to support the land aspects of the JBNQA review.” According to the terms of the JBNQA, Inuit are currently restricted to ownership of 1.8 per cent of the total landmass of Nunavik, the atlas shows that is not what Inuit wanted, nor what they asked for. The foreword describes the atlas as a “valuable tool to support the land aspects of the JBNQA review.” 

Makivvik’s Cartographic Services has been working on the atlas for the past two years. The 160 pages includes 96 maps, consisting of 60 maps showing the land the communities originally selected, 12 original insert maps, and 24 selection evolution maps, showing how the land selected differs from what was allotted. It also includes a regional map summarizing the evolution of all community selections in one map. Descriptive summary notes have been incorporated in each community land selection map to provide relevant information to each map including the names of the community land selection committee members, the date the original map was prepared, population of each community, and the Category I and II land quantum. 

An example of a page from the atlas, showing original land selections from Kuujjuaq.

Although the project was officially two years in the making, the actual work began decades ago, when a young student met Charlie Watt on an airplane going to Killiniq (formerly Port Burwell).

Erik Val had been hired by the then Inuit Tapiirisat Canada, to support the Nunavut land claim by mapping all the NWT Inuit communities and providing evidence of multi-generational use of the land by interviewing Inuit hunters. His friendship with Watt resulted in Val being hired, along with a number of Inuit, to work for the Northern Quebec Inuit Association starting in the summer of 1975. Along with Eli Weetaluktuk, from Inukjuak, he went to all the Nunavik communities to document the land selections made by Inuit that were then put into the JBNQA negotiation process over the next five years. 

They used federal government issued base maps with overlays, and doumented the land selections by hand. Val and others created base maps for each community, then visited and worked with community members to establish land selection committees. Each community selected roughly six people to represent them in the negotiations. They drew the lines on the maps indicating where they would like to select Category I and II Lands, with the only criteria being the allocation amount. The community selections along with explanations of why certain areas were important to each Inuit community were presented on September 16, 1975, to the Quebec government, the federal government and all of the development organizations involved. That’s how the negotiating process began. 

“It tells a story, which is kind of summarized at the outset (of the book), and then people from the communities themselves can focus in on their community to understand what happened and get a better appreciation.” — Erik Val

 “It was a very pluralistic process in as much as that after we worked with the land selection committee to create the lines, before we left the community, there’d be a community meeting,” Val said. 

“People would have long discussions about the lines and why they were important and then at the end of the process at the outset, communities would agree with, or change lines.” Those original maps and explanations were taken into negotiations.

Val said he has clear memories of sitting in the negotiation rooms and watching the process.

“I still remember Quebec’s reaction,” he recalled. “And how ballistic some of the very senior people were over that. But that’s a whole other story.”

Fast forward to March 2016, after the report was given to the Landholding Corporation Association’s AGM in Montreal. A search of the Makivvik Montreal offices had unearthed the original land selection maps for all 12 Inuit communities that took part in the negotiations, remarkable as the office had moved four times over the decades. 

“A lot of the maps had been rolled up but had been crushed over time,” Val said of the maps he himself had worked on that were still were wrapped in brown paper with his handwriting on them. Val, retained as the Atlas Project Coordinator, repaired the maps as needed, including literally ironing some of them between linen bedsheets. The collection was then inventoried, catalogued and photographed before being digitized, a very technical process outlined in the atlas. The original maps are now stored at the Avataq Cultural Institute.   

Not only does the atlas provide maps but also many historic and contemporary photographs selected from Avataq and other archival sources, along with specific narratives for each map that help explain why things happened the way they did.

 Val said of the atlas: “It tells a story, which is kind of summarized at the outset (of the book), and then people from the communities themselves can focus in on their community to understand what happened and get a better appreciation.”  

The foreword by Watt and Emudluk echoes his sentiments. “This atlas will serve to support our legal and policy arguments. It will also serve to commemorate the Inuit involved in the community land selection committees and to tell their story.”

There were many individuals involved in the production of the atlas, Makivvik lawyer François Dorval and consultant Lorraine Brooke oversaw its production, Niels Jensen photographed the original maps, which were then geo-referenced and digitized by Drew Hannen. Oumer Ahmed, of Makivvik subsidiary Nunavik Geomatics and Cartographic Services, designed and created the final maps. Avataq staff helped archive the original maps and then find, scan and secure permissions to reproduce historic photos. Laina Grey and Eli Weetaluktuk identified many of the community land selection committee members in the photos and William Tagoona provided the NQIA photos from the 1970s. KRG’s Jean-Phillipe Dubois provided some contemporary Nunavik images and Lousie Abbott assisted in photo research and designed and laid out the atlas. She and Lorraine Brooke edited and proofread the text.

Currently, 100 copies of the English version of the atlas have been published. An additional 50 copies will be published in Inuktitut and French. The foreword states that the atlas will eventually be made available to all communities, libraries, schools and other regional organizations in Nunavik. 

Makivvik Cartographic Services is developing a dedicated website with an online interactive map displaying all the atlas components in order to make the atlas more accessible to the wider public and maximize its reach.