Atlantic Canada: Innu Nation asks court to quash NunatuKavut agreement with Ottawa

Gregory Rich is grand chief of the Innu Nation. (Bailey White/CBC)
The Innu Nation, in Atlantic Canada, is again challenging the Indigenous status of the NunatuKavut Community Council, this time in federal court.

An application filed Oct. 1 asks the federal court to quash a memorandum of understanding signed by the NCC and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett on self-determination.

It says the federal government “failed to discharge its duty to consult and accommodate the Innu of Labrador” when it signed the document with NCC President Todd Russell in early September.

“The decision was not reasonable. It must be quashed,” reads the application.

At the time Russell called the agreement a “significant step forward in our relationship with Canada on the recognition of our Inuit rights and self-determination” and said it would protect NunatuKavut’s culture and way of life while furthering self-government.

NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) president, Todd Russell and Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations signed a memorandum of understanding in early September. (NunatuKavut Community Council)

Innu Nation slammed the agreement at the time, accusing the federal government of double-dealing and undermining their long-standing land claims process, which has been in negotiations for decades.

The court filing says Bennett did not properly consult with the Innu on the decision to sign the memorandum.

The court documents state the Innu do not and have never accepted that NCC members can be considered Indigenous under Section 35 of the Constitution Act.

“In the concluding MOU, the minister failed to specify which of ‘Indian, Inuit [or] Métis peoples’ she was recognizing NCC as,” the court document reads.

Land claim overlap

It says NunatuKavut’s land claim significantly overlaps with both the Innu and Labrador Inuit land claim areas.

“If NCC’s claims to the Innu of Labrador’s land claim areas are recognized by Canada the recognition of Innu rights under a final Land Claims agreement will be diminished, delayed or displaced,” reads the application.

The court filing also names incumbent Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, who was present at the signing of the memorandum.

The court filing says Bennett’s decision to sign the memorandum and Jones’s support are based on political interests.

It also accuses Jones of knowing about the decision by Bennett’s department to sign the memorandum but telling the Innu Nation that the meetings between NCC and the minister’s office were about access to services for NCC.

“It was improper for Ms. Jones, who is no longer parliamentary secretary to the minister, to have been involved in the decision, given her clear conflict of interest as a member of NCC,” the court document reads.

NCC was not immediately available to respond. CBC has also asked the federal government and Yvonne Jones for their responses.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Dene, Métis end self-government talks in Canada’s Northwest Territories, CBC News

Finland: The Arctic railway: Building a future… or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic special report

Norway: Inuit, Sami leading the way in Indigenous self-determination, study says, CBC News

Jacob Barker, CBC News

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