Inuvialuit Refuse Treaty

During the signing of treaties with Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories (NWT), the Government of Canada did not enter into discussions with people living in the high arctic, as the Inuit of the Eastern and Western Arctic were not legally defined as “Indians.” As a result, the people identifying as Inuvialuit or Inuinnait in the Mackenzie River Delta and the Arctic Coast were excluded from a treaty relationship with Canada. In 1928, the Department of the Interior and its administrative division, the NWT and Yukon Branch, and governing NWT Council were delegated the federal responsibility for “Inuit Affairs.”

In 1929, Lord Byng, Governor General of Canada, and O.S. Finnie, director of the NWT and Yukon Branch, travelled down the Mackenzie River onboard the steamship SS Distributor, reaching Aklavik in August. Their stay was very brief, but Finnie took time to meet with Inuvialuit to discuss matters of game regulations and other issues of interest to community leaders, including asking whether the Inuvialuit of the Mackenzie River Delta wished to sign a treaty.

A man named Nuligak, whom the missionaries called Bob Cockney, joined with his fellow Inuvialuit to listen to Finnie’s proposal of a $5.00 a year payment, similar to the payment accepted by Treaty 11 participants.

“I told this to my fellowmen … and asked them what they thought about it. They answered ‘no’ they didn’t want it, so I told them that I’ll tell him that $5.00 was not enough, and I told so to the representative of the Government. We feel that this is not enough, and we do not accept it.” The Inuvialuit wanted access to health care and food when times were hard. During his four-day stay, Finnie promised, “we will act according to your wishes.”

On December 11, 1929, the NWT Council, a group of six men in Ottawa appointed by the Federal Government, recognized the Inuit as a separate group of people for the legal bureaucratic purposes of providing liquor permits. The precedent showed the different Canadian Government responses to interactions with Inuvialuit and Inuit. It took 50 more years before Inuvialuit and other Inuit entered land claim negotiations with the Government of Canada.

Related story: 1966 ‘I, Nuligak:’ An Inuvialuit Autobiography