What is Self-Governance?

The following question is particularly intended for participants in the Kuujjuaq forum on the theme of Self-governance in Arctic Societies: dynamics and trends. Anyone else that would like to add their opinions or comments is also invited to do so.

"What does self-governance mean to you? Where do you live, and in your opinion, are you part of a political or social structure that is self-governing?"

  • May 17, 2006
  • Webmaster


Greetings, my name is Carly McLafferty. I am looking forward to meeting you and discussing the theme of self-governance with you at IPSSAS this year! The question posed for discussion is a complicated one, but I thought I would throw out some preliminary thoughts…

For me, self-governance means something like the ability to choose to live in a way that is consistent with my values and beliefs. It involves the ability to have influence over decisions and institutions that affect my life; it involves the ability to be free of structural constraints that limit my ability to reach the goals that I have set out for myself; and it involves the ability to participate in a society that does not negate the self-conception I have of myself and my way of viewing the world.

Questions surrounding whether I feel I am a part of a political or social structure that is self-governing are not easy to answer. In Canada, we have a federal governing structure that is (or is supposed to be) based upon principals of democracy and the will of the people. The Canadian government has the ability to collect taxes, pass laws, and institute punishment. Sometimes these laws, taxes, punishments etc. are consistent with my values, and sometimes they are not; sometimes these are consistent with the values of some segments of society, and are incompatible with others; sometimes we must make compromises, both nationally and internationally, in consideration of the needs, beliefs, or values of others. If self-governance means only the ability to pass laws, collect taxes, and enforce punishment, perhaps Canada could be considered a self-governing nation. However, I feel that questions of self-governance run much deeper… perhaps another question might be: to what extent is the governing structure of the Canadian nation state reflective of the values, beliefs, and aspirations of all Canadians, and to what degree do people really have influence over the decisions and institutions that effect their daily lives?

  • May 18, 2006
  • Carly McLafferty

Greetings everyone, my name is Jakub Christensen Medonos ('77, male, married, ph.d. student, University of Copenhagen). I'll be participating in the IPSSAS seminar - LOOKING VERY MUCH FORWARD TO IT!

A short comment from me before my departure from Copenhagen, Denmark.
I agree with Carly McLafferty; "...question of self-governance run much deeper.."
My presentation in Kuujjuaq is about youth and my project in Sisimiut (second largest city), Greenland (2006-2009. I'm doing research on urban youth culture. Adressing the issue of self-governance from my point of view, it strikes me how many tasks young people have in the self-governance process (growing up, keeping up with modern cultural trends & lifestyles, getting accepted in the "adult society," choosing the best self-governance arena, choosing a path in the self-governing society etc.)
What does self-governance mean to me? Apart from understanding it as a political concept, it is for me a question of total freedom on the personal level. The freedom to choose your own destiny and an ability to interact with the world with trust, energy and creativity.
I live in Denmark (born in Czech Republic under a totalitarian regime).I guess I'm part of a social structure that is self-governing; the political structure is not always accessible in the course of everyday life.
Hmmm - haven't thought about it much in the light of my personal history....


  • May 20, 2006
  • Jakub Christensen Medonos

Hi, my name is Alexandre Germain. I would like to take this opportunity keenly offered by the Nunavik government webmaster to share with you some of my thoughts about “what is self-governance”. I am looking forward to discuss it further at the IPSSAS seminar! Can we hope helping this issue to move along? We’ll see.

I think the major difficulty with the concept of “self-governance” is defining the “self”. The “self” refers to an identity and it is known that individuals bear multiple “layers” of identities (individual, familial, local, regional, ethnic, national and so on). These identities refer to different levels of allegiance. So, once the “self” is clarified, the type of governance can be elaborated towards “self-governance”. Soon after comes the question of power: where lies the power. If the power lies in a structure in which a particular group can recognize itself, then we are getting closer to the idea of self-government.

In Canada, no doubt that the biggest amount of power lies in the hands of the Federal government. This greatly justifies Carly McLafferty’s concluding question where he wonders about the degree of representativeness of the institutions of the Canadian state.

At this point I am tempted to argue that “self-governance” is a concept that serves the modern state to secure its territorial integrity by sharing some of its power with minority groups that could challenge its sovereignty. I do not mean that the idea here in Canada is driven by bad intentions, and actually I think it is the opposite. But as far as I know, the concept of “self-governance” is not employed at the state level. It is not only about the ability to “pass laws, collect taxes, and enforce punishment”. For that reason I would argue that Canada is not a self-governing “nation”. It is a state (and in its whole, probably not a nation). “Self-governance” is acceptable though, if the group who benefits from it recognizes it-“self” in the state that provides it. Then still comes the necessity of defining a type governance that respects the “self” (and does not threaten the state!). It can get tricky!

  • May 20, 2006
  • Alexandre Germain

Hi all. I am Andreas Droulias and will be discussing these issues along with you in the conference. Looking forward to it.

I want to continue from Alexandre's last point. Since self government is about power relations and given the increasing involvement of international organizations or nation states into other nations' buisness soon we might start applying self - government in the state level as well.

For me self government implies a local context. But we cannot equate local government (ie a municipality) with self government (a tribal council) because the latter also implies a sovereign political entity (sovereign here not necessarily refering to complete sovereignty but degrees of it).

Sovereignty, in turn, has a legal and conceptual existence between two or more actors (ie First Nation vs Canadian Federal Government). Sovereignty and thus the ability of self government also involves a constant battle over control of a variety of interelated political, economic and social areas.
Simply put, between two sovereign bodies one's loss is the other's gain.

In this sense the aspiration of self government can be applied to any state that deems it self (and is perceived as by others) as a sovereign body.

This comment is only something I try to keep in mind but I have not attempted (nor am I willing to) to force it on the idea of self government which in our context refers to the ability of local indigenous communities in Alaska or First Nations in Canada to govern their own destinies vis a vis the federal government.

  • May 20, 2006
  • Andreas Droulias


The choice of words being all important we (Nunavik Government negotiators) have chosen to use the words "Nunavik Government", or "Nunavimmiut Aquvvinga" when referring to the new form of government to be established.

Some of the main issues we expect a great deal of debate upon from the Nunavik public are the values and principles that enabled the people to survive an environment that is not a respecter of persons. Some of the participants in the upcoming gathering experienced these values and principles. We need to hear and listen to what they have to say.

The challenge now lies whether or not our present day society is willing to be a responsible steward of this great land (literal translation of Nunavik) as its forefathers were.

The principle of sharing, the value of life, the value of family. The beliefs of Nunavik society.

There is certainly a lot of food for thought for all who will get together to take yet another positive step towards our future.

All this to establish a solid foundation for our Nunavik...!!!

Harry Tulugak

  • May 26, 2006
  • Harry Tulugak

Hi again,
My 6th day in Kuujjuaq. Thank you for the hospitality provided by the community and Makivik Corp. Kuujjuaq is a beautiful place and people are very friendly.

I'm very much looking forward to the Nunavik Government Forum - "Sivunivut" next week. I can inform you that we today agreed on 5 students who will provide a short speech on wednesday.

I'm learning a lot about self-governance, especially the amount of work and dedication people put into it. It seems that Nunavik is very strong even though much attention has been directed on the Nunavut governance process.


  • May 27, 2006
  • Jakub C. Medonos

I have a question, as Nunavik Government negotiators do you see that Nunavik’s life style will be harder to live after we govern our self? or will this self government end us up in financial crisis meaning today we already face financial crisis such as expensive foods, expensive ATVs and many more in Nunavik, I just hope it will be better than the way it is.

Nakurmiimarialuk kiuravit,

  • October 23, 2008
  • Kululak

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