The president of the council representing southern Inuit in Atlantic Canada says a new agreement with the federal government lays the foundation for future negotiation of Indigenous rights and self-governance.
“It is a significant, meaningful and important day for the Inuit of NunatuKavut. It was a day that we have long fought for, that our people have fought for and it was a marvellous signing ceremony,” Todd Russell, NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) president told CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning on Friday, a day after the council signed a memorandum of understanding in Toronto with the federal government.
The NCC represents about 6,000 Inuit in southern and central Labrador.
Russell said the signing marks the beginning of more than just a claim to land. He said it’s the beginning of getting direly needed health supports, the ability to harvest from the water to feed their families, and educational opportunities for the youth, and eventual self-governance.
“What a proud day that’s going to be,” he said.
A proud day
Liberal MP Yvonne Jones told CBC News the federal government’s recognition of NunatuKavut is an important step toward inclusivity.
Jones grew up in NunatuKavut territory, is a descendent of Inuit ancestors and represents the riding of Labrador in the House of Commons.
“I know today they would be proud. Proud to know that they live in a country where they have been recognized as full Indigenous people, and that the lands they love, the waters they love are being recognized as their homeland as well,” she said.
Jones acknowledged there is still a long road ahead of the council and the federal government, but she puts full stock in council leadership to deliver negotiations, programs and services for its communities.
‘Double-dealing,’ says Innu chief
But the memorandum of understanding hasn’t been received well by everyone.
Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich said he’s infuriated in what he calls Canada’s “double-dealing,” and suggested Jones fast-tracked the NCC through the negotiation process by putting her own self-interests as a member of the NCC in front of her responsibilities as the MP for Labrador.
“We are angered and we disagree with it. We’ve been at the negotiating table for close to 40 years,” Rich told CBC News from the side of a highway on his way home from the elder gathering in Quebec.
Rich’s said the Innu nation has gone through a lengthy process and they therefore should have gotten a deal first. He’s also angry that neither he, nor the Innu Nation, were given a heads-up that a deal was going to be struck.
“We don’t understand why NunatuKavut doesn’t go through the same process as we did. It’s not fair how they signed the MOU.”
Rich said northern Labrador communities feel underrepresented in the House of Commons, and said he believes Jones focuses on NunatuKavut and not Innu Nation or Nunatsiavut.
Rich also said he believes someone is stalling the Innu Nation land claim deal at the federal level and that the NCC deal is going to create more problems as both nations appear to claim ownership of some areas of land.
“This new group is going to be a problem for us and the Innu Nation doesn’t recognize this new group that claim to be Inuit,” he said.
Opening the door
The signing of the memorandum between the NCC and the federal government should lead to future negotiations for other Indigenous groups across Canada, according to Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Bennett said the federal government is committed to moving from nation to nation and understanding collective Indigenous nations’ rights to establish new relationships with Canada.
“These kinds of memoranda are sort of the guideposts to the next stage of the recognition, implementation of rights,” she said.
With files from Newfoundland Morning
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Canada moves to recognize NunatuKavut Inuit community in Labrador, CBC News
Finland: Sámi youth oppose proposed Arctic rail line in northern Finland, Yle News
Norway: Inuit, Sami leading the way in Indigenous self-determination, study says, CBC News
Sweden: Report sheds light on Swedish minority’s historic mistreatment, Radio Sweden
United States: Inuit leaders to advance Indigenous human rights, Radio Canada International