Debate on Nunavut land referendum heats up as voting begins

With advance polls open, the debate on Nunavut's land referendum — which will determine whether municipal lands in the territory can be sold — is heating up, both on the streets and social media.

‘Land is not something that belongs to an individual, it’s something that we use collectively’: Franco Buscemi

'The yes vote here I don’t think would go very well with the way Inuit live,' said Franco Buscemi, an Iqaluit homeowner. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

With advance polls open, the debate on Nunavut's land referendum — which will determine whether municipal lands in the territory can be sold — is heating up, both on the streets and social media.

On Monday, advance voting for the referendum began in 11 communities. A 'yes' vote means that hamlet and city councils will be able to sell municipal lots to individuals or companies. A 'no' vote will mean continuing to lease them for a fee. Referendum day is May 9th, and each hamlet will decide for their own community.

"The yes vote here, I don't think would go very well with the way Inuit live," said Franco Buscemi, who lives in Iqaluit.

Buscemi argues that traditional Inuit values are what set Nunavut apart from the rest of Canada.

Franco Buscemi has been sharing his thoughts about the land referendum on social media. (submitted by Franco Buscemi )
"When I was growing up, I was always told that the land is not something that belongs to an individual," he said.

"It's something that we use collectively, and there's more of a relationship of respect and gratitude towards the land, and not a relationship of ownership."

Buscemi said not being able to own land will not hinder economic growth in Nunavut, arguing that "if there's money to be made, money will be made."

'There's a lot of fear out there'

'There’s a lot of fear out there or a lack of understanding of what this can mean,' said Iqaluit home owner Brian Tattuinee. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Brian Tattuinee, a homeowner in Iqaluit, shared his thoughts with friends on a conversation thread on Facebook. He said he wanted to indicate his support for a 'yes' vote in favour of land ownership to encourage dialogue.

The government of Nunavut has created a website, poster and a brochure about the land referendum. (Government of Nunavut)
"There's a lot of fear out there or a lack of understanding of what this can mean," said Tattuinee. "People are worried that all of a sudden somebody else is going to buy up every piece of land."

Tattuinee said people don't realize that the vote is not going to change things overnight, and that municipalities will still play a big role in how land ownership plays out under a 'yes' vote.

And, according to him, the benefits of land ownership outweigh the possible pitfalls.

"For me it makes sense because it gives me a lot of flexibility in what I can do as part of my homeownership," he said. "I can borrow against equity on my freehold title rather than going through the bank."

Iqalummiut share views online

Last week Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, the organization that represents Inuit under the land claims agreement, indicated that they are encouraging residents to vote 'no' in the referendum.

Other civic leaders are using social media to share their perspective on the land referendum with friends and neighbours.

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern has been an outspoken critic of the private land ownership of municipal lands.  

Former Iqaluit city councillor Kenny Bell has also been vocal on social media, sharing his thoughts on why a 'yes' vote on the sale of municipal land makes sense.

Others like Iqaluit's Bernice Clarke are taking to Facebook chat groups to share their thoughts. 

Many, like Iqaluit’s Bernice Clarke are taking to Facebook chat groups to share their thoughts on the land referendum. (Facebook)

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.