Nunavut still not ready to take Inuit artifacts stored in Yellowknife

The N.W.T. government says it can't keep storing more than 140,000 Inuit artifacts at Yellowknife's Prince of Wales Heritage Centre, but the Nunavut government says plans for the new Nunavut Heritage Centre are at a standstill.

N.W.T. has been storing more than 140,000 Inuit artifacts for over a decade

The N.W.T. government says it can't keep storing Inuit artifacts for the Government of Nunavut. Meanwhile, plans to build a proper storage facility in Nunavut seem to be at a standstill.

Gabriela Eggenhofer, the N.W.T.'s deputy minister of Education, Culture and Employment, says minister Jackson Lafferty has written Nunavut to say that the current arrangement can't last forever.  

"We have advised them that this is not a long-term solution and they need to make their own provisions for
storing their own artifacts," said Eggenhofer.

It would be nice to have our own museum. The problem is we don't have that kind of funding- George Kuksuk, minister of Culture and Heritage, on building a Nunavut heritage centre

Under the agreement, the Government of Nunavut pays the N.W.T. government around $1 million a year to cover the cost of storing and preserving more than 140,000 Inuit artifacts and other materials in a climate-controlled vault at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife. The amount paid to the N.W.T. has increased every year since 1999. 

The two governments have now formed a working group to discuss a handover of the materials, Eggenhofer added. The department says that "a plan for the transition of materials back to Nunavut must be in place prior to the end of the next fiscal year." 

It wasn't supposed to be this way. 

In 2006, the Government of Nunavut, alongside Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., announced plans to build a $55-million heritage centre in Iqaluit, where the materials could be stored. 

But the centre still hasn't been built

"At this point, there's nothing really concrete in terms of building," said George Kuksuk, Nunavut's minister of Culture and Heritage, on Monday.

"At this point, I can't say we're going ahead with it." 

Kuksuk said that the government is talking to some groups, including the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, the economic development corporation for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, about potentially leasing space in a building, but says talks are not that advanced.

"It would be nice to have our own museum," he said. "The problem is we don't have that kind of funding where we could fund and built a facility soon." 
Earlier this year, the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation unveiled these preliminary designs for a new Nunavut Heritage Museum to accommodate the thousands of Inuit artifacts stored in Yellowknife. But the Nunavut government says plans to build the centre are at a standstill. (CBC)

Eggenhofer said that once the Nunavut materials are shipped off, Prince of Wales staff members will have "easier" access to the N.W.T.'s own artifacts. 

But Joanne Bird, the museum's curator of collections, says that's not the case.

"There's no issue of access," said Bird. "But undoubtedly, when the artifacts leave, there will be more spaces for us to acquire other things."

Bird added that Inuit objects from the Nunavut collection have not been included in new exhibits at the Prince of Wales since the territories split apart in 1999.

Eggenhofer said the two governments are negotiating a new storage deal. The current one expires in March 2016 — the same time Nunavut is required to have a transition plan in place.