by Natalia Loukacheva. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 2007. 272pp. Hardback. £40.00/$60.00. ISBN: 9780802092953. Paper. £18.00/$27.95. ISBN: 9780802094865.

Reviewed by Lee P. Ruddin (LL.B: Liverpool); (MRes: London) and (PgCert: Sheffield). Email: leetherudster [at]


Two entities answerable to a North American power and a European kingdom seek greater independence. Historically, both were confronted with similar methods of colonization. Culturally, they have shared a nomadic lifestyle – often considering themselves as one people. Together they inhabit a strategically-contested expanse. Notwithstanding aspirations of self-reliance they accept economic aid from dominant states.

A reader would be forgiven for believing the above-referenced entities to be Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet such thinking would be erroneous. Indeed, the two entities are Greenland and Nunavut, the North American power is Canada (not America), and the European Kingdom, Denmark (not Britain).

This is not a discipline-specific book. Rather it is a work of comparative law and politics; traversing constitutional, international, and Aboriginal varieties of law on the one hand, and political science, international relations, and strategic studies on the other. As a result, THE ARCTIC PROMISE: LEGAL AND POLITICAL AUTONOMY OF GREENLAND AND NUNAVUT will be of great interest to both under- and postgraduates of both disciplines. (The book’s price ensures its inclusion on reading lists come the new semester). Rarely does a text offer so much to so many without being extraordinarily ambitious. That said, Natalia Loukacheva ought to be acquitted of charges of authorial overstretch.

THE ARCTIC PROMISE contains five substantive chapters; four of which are equally weighted. Loukacheva is to be applauded for producing chapters suitable for individual reading without sacrificing fluidity of her thesis. These chapters are enveloped more by history than anything else, adding real substance to the volume. Adding further weight to the text is Loukacheva’s command of the relevant literature which is prodigious. Taken together this makes for an important contribution to our understanding (legally and politically) of Greenland and Nunavut from a historical perspective.

Loukacheva presents an original effort to compare Inuit peoples’ quest for autonomy in two jurisdictions. At root, her macro-comparative study does a commendable job of identifying similarities and differences in Canadian and Danish legal behaviours vis-à-vis the Inuit (p.14). Scholarly works on the issue of governance and indigenous self-governance confirm that a legal concept of autonomy suffers from much ambiguity. On this occasion, the comparative research renders the [*8] perplexing legal concept of autonomy unperplexing. Given the paucity of such comparative study, Lockacheva’s research is a noteworthy contribution to the administration and realization of governance.

Loukacheva achieves her aim of wanting to reduce the ambiguities surrounding the right to autonomy in areas where indigenous peoples are the majority:

On the one hand, there is a legal regime and policies intended for the beneficiaries of the NLCA [Nunavut Land Claims Agreement], who represent the majority of Nunavut’s population. On the other hand, there is public governance for all Nunavummiut, which gives special consideration to Inuit values and concerns (p.35).

Similar sentiments are voiced by former premier of Greenland, Lars Emil Johansen:

The Home Rule agreement is not an agreement honouring or even referring to the collective rights of the Inuit population, but rather a law concerning everyone living permanently within the geographical entity of 840 000 square miles know as Greenland . . . From a legal point of view, the rights and powers of the Home Rule Agreement were not granted to us as a people or ethnic group, but as the inhabitants of a certain landmass (p.38).

The system of governance created by an act (Greenland) and an agreement (Nunavut) ‘has evolved into one that, at a functional rather than a juridical level, goes far towards meeting the interests of the Inuit, who represent the majority of the population’ (p.39). Both are classic examples of territorial autonomy as opposed to purely Aboriginal self-government. Though examples of a government body with an Inuit face (p.40)! Hence is there any need for indigenous autonomy?

In the opening chapter (“The Inuit of Greenland and Nunavut: From Subjugation to Self-Government?”: pp.17-32), Loukacheva reasons that, true to colonialist form, both Greenland and Nunavut were colonized by the Qallunaat – the white man – on grounds of trade and settlement. Colonial history demands we discuss the ‘right of discovery,’ ‘sovereignty,’ ‘effective occupation,’ terra nullius and the discourse of waste, ‘recognition,’ ‘treaties,’ ‘civilization,’ and ‘commerce’ – to name but eight. Loukacheva deems otherwise. In view of that, she ought to be found guilty on charges of authorial understretch. For those readers with a particular research interest in this area, the work(s) of Anthony Anghie remain seminal.

The process of colonization colonized colonization, so to speak. For we learn of ‘the Instrux’ of 1782 (establishing rules for wages and codes of behaviour for Inuit and Danish merchants apropos Greenland) which divided Greenland’s population into social categories, setting forth harsh penalties for corrupting the Inuit with alcohol. A colonial disclaimer, enunciated at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, reiterated similar European thinking in relation to the uncontaminated Muslims of the Niger Basin. There appears to be more parallels than Loukacheva acknowledges. Admittedly, this is clearly beyond her remit, and understandably so. To be sure, Loukacheva consummately sets the [*9] scene for those with relatively little knowledge of Greenland and Nunavut.

Chapter Two (“The Constitutional Dimensions of the Governance of Nunavut and Greenland”: pp.33-52) starts off where the previous one finishes, negotiating the (in)compatibility of Western notions of governance with Inuit values undergirded by political consciousness. The telling of the political mobilization of Greenlanders (‘Greenlandic intelligentsia’: p.29) proves page-turning.

The Inuit face of public government is majestically documented in Chapter Three (“Territorial Government versus Home Rule: The Structure of Nunavut’s and Greenland’s Institutions”: pp.53-72). Loukacheva goes to great lengths to underscore the colonial legacy – a legacy midwife to a framework of Western institutionalism – and today’s Inuit legal structures (pp.66-69, 97).

Students of modern history are conscious of the fact that “the arctic has gradually been transformed from a military vacuum prior to World War II, to a military flank in the 1950-70 period, and a military front in the 1980s” (p.130). For all its pre-1989 importance, the end of the Cold War (post-11/9) has witnessed a reduction in the geo-strategic significance of the Circumpolar North. The fallout from the Evil Empire’s demise as regards Inuit participation in security affairs remains open to interpretation.

Chapters Four (‘The Jurisdiction of Greenland and Nunavut’: pp.73-102) and Five (‘Greenland and Nunavut in International Affairs’: pp.103-144), arguably the most promising of the book, cover jurisdiction that is traditionally non-transferable to subnational entities.

The Home Rule Act, The NLCA, and the Nunavut Act do not permit either entity jurisdiction over international security policy. All is not so clear-cut though. And it is in this instance that Loukacheva provides some much-needed clarity. Despite Greenland’s lack of international legal personality, the author tells of the joint declaration (between the latter and Denmark) ‘on the involvement of Greenland’s home rule government in foreign and security policy matters of significance for the island’ (p.105). Greenland’s participation in Danish, Nordic, and Greenlandic-Danish-American collaboration is a positive move in transformation of areas of international relations to subnational entities. Loukacheva further catalogues the genesis of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, a trans-Arctic NGO.

That said, the Danish constitution reads that the king acts on behalf of the kingdom in foreign affairs. In short, unity of the Danish realm regards international relations as part of the undividable sovereignty of Denmark. And rightly so. Loukacheva acknowledges: ‘Steadily increasing recognition of subnational territories such as Greenland and possibly Nunavut legitimate participants in international relations contradicts traditional conceptions of national sovereignty and reduces the sovereign powers of the state’ (p.110).

The economic reality of Greenland and Nunavut further throws into question the [*10] practicality of home rule self-governance in the Arctic, making the concept of autonomy rather synthetic. Loukacheva, like many Arctic analysts, has to reconcile the idea of autonomy with the necessity of acquiring government funds.

Notwithstanding an unrewarding miscellany of maps and charts, the study remains dynamic throughout with a catalogue of notes and an extensive bibliography (together numbering 90-plus pages), which more than makes up for the earlier omissions. All in all, Loukacheva’s succinct, jargon-free analysis of Arctic autonomy makes for a rewarding read.

Loukacheva serves up an authoritative and digestible book pertaining to the forms and evolution of the right to autonomy among the Inuit. The reviewer is sanguine about how much Loukacheva’s work will contribute to ongoing discussions about international law, autonomy, and voluntary colonialism.

Anghie, Anthony. 2005. IMPERIALISM, SOVEREIGNTY AND THE MAKING OF INTERNATIONAL LAW. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

© Copyright 2008 by the author, Lee P. Ruddin.