The government of Nunavut is trying to integrate traditional Inuit knowledge, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), into the policies and workings of the new bureaucracy, but it is a difficult task. A recent journal article provides background on the integration of traditional knowledge into the structure of a western, bureaucratic government—or vice versa.

The author, Annis May Timpson, argues that building government bureaucracies that effectively represent Inuit values could be “potentially radicalizing” for the northern territories and, perhaps, for all of Canada. She starts by reviewing the relevant policy documents that guided the creation of the Nunavut government: the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement of 1993, a 1995 blueprint for the government called Footprints in the Snow, and a 1999 document called the Bathhurst Mandate. The latter document prescribed that the new territorial government should be grounded in Inuit values.

The author interviewed a number of public servants in Nunavut in 2001 to find out how effectively the government has been developing Inuit values within the bureaucracy. She records a number of striking advances. For instance, the Department of Human Resources is encouraging other government departments to look at the skills, attitudes, and knowledge of applicants for jobs rather than just formal education, which is clearly a Western value. One department’s interviewer told the author, “a lot of times we found that education was a barrier and we looked for equivalences and experience and volunteerism …” (p.522).

Working within the cultural context of Inuit life has become important for government agencies. Departments encourage employees to rotate work on flexible schedules, so people can leave to go hunting if conditions are right. They can get their work done later, or on weekends. One bureaucrat said that, “even though I am a full-time government employee, I’m still attached to the land and to animals very strongly. I need to go out hunting for peace of mind and quiet and for food for my family …” (p.522).

Another manager admitted that flexibility was not always easy. One year the entire department arranged to take off and go hunting, but the plan had to be delayed due to the weather. And when the weather cleared, the official had to go to Toronto for a meeting.

The agencies have tried to make sure that Inuit employees are represented in proportion to their overwhelming numbers in the territory, but that has not always been easy. As much as possible, the government has decentralized its offices out of the territorial capital of Iqaluit. But the proportions of Inuit employed in the headquarters of the agencies in Iqaluit have been declining since the inception of the territory.

While Nunavut is officially multi-lingual, many of the senior administrators are native English speakers whose command of Inuktitut is limited. All new Qallunaat (non-Inuit) employees are required to take a ten-week Inuktitut immersion course, but their fluency is usually limited to an ability to weave indigenous phrases into their English discourse. The Premier takes the issue seriously, however, and has decreed that all deputy ministers must become fluent in Inuktitut by 2008 or risk the loss of their jobs. The author points out that Inuit employees, many of whom work at lower level positions and have lost some of their Inuktitut during their high school years, do not have the advantage of released time for courses in their own native language.

But communicating in the language of the people is clearly a serious issue to many people. One Inuk policy analyst found it frustrating to talk with her manager about exciting ideas she was working on because she found she lost her steam when she had to speak English to him. Her passion for her subject was lost when she had to express her thoughts in English.

The best part of the article is an analysis of the government’s attempts to create a “culturally conscious public service.” The initial government in 1999 stated that IQ, Inuit traditional knowledge, “will provide the context in which we develop an open, responsive and accountable government of Nunavut” (p.526). One of the difficulties is that the meaning of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is unclear—IQ represents different concepts in different communities. Bureaucrats who were not raised on the land themselves have a hard time relating the concept of traditional knowledge to the exigencies of delivering government services.

Is IQ a past tense concept—traditional knowledge of how to live on the land? Or is it a present day concept—Inuit Qaujimajangit—today’s Inuit knowledge necessary for merging essential values with the realities of the contemporary world?

The territorial legislature has articulated the need to integrate the values of IQ into all areas of the government (see next week’s review), and in agencies that have a supportive deputy minister, there have been some striking results. Agencies have consulted community elders, appointed IQ coordinators, set up special committees, and issued newsletters to promote the concept. But some departments such as Finance, Executive, and Intergovernmental Affairs have had a harder time incorporating IQ into their working practices. These agencies have only given symbolic nods to IQ—occasional ceremonies and days away on the land, but not much else.

Pressures to deliver important services to needy people seem to lessen the importance of the government integrating IQ into its workings. Also, the top down structure of the bureaucracy, with Qallunaat as the heads of the agencies, inhibits the process of developing a government that represents the cultural perspectives of the Inuit.

The author concludes by citing an IQ Task Force report of 2002. It said the task is not so much to find ways of incorporating IQ into the government of Nunavut, but instead to find ways for the government to “incorporate itself into Inuit culture” (p.527). The report points out that this can only happen by recognizing the “chasm—the cultural divide—separating Inuit Culture on the one side from the Nunavut Government’s institutional culture on the other side” (p.527). The challenge is to build bridges across the divide.

Timpson, Annis May. 2006. “Stretching the Concept of Representative Bureaucracy: The Case of Nunavut.” International Review of Administrative Sciences 72(4): 517-530