Ottawa ignored responsibilities under Inuvialuit land deal, report says

Auditor General Sheila Fraser slammed the federal government over the way it implemented an historic land claims deal it struck with Inuit in the western Arctic 23 years ago.

Department's follow-up on land claim 'just isn't there,' auditor general says

Auditor General Sheila Fraser slammed the federal government over the way it implemented a historic land claims dealit struckwith Inuit in the western Arctic 23 years ago.

In herlatest report, released Tuesday, Fraser said Ottawa paid the money it promised, but ignored some of its otherresponsibilitiesas partofits landmark 1984agreement with the Inuvialuit people. She added that the Indian and Northern Affairs department did not work with the people involved.

"You know, I really wish I could answer that question as to why, 23 years after the government makes a commitment to these people, it has still not lived up to its obligations," Fraser told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.

"It is disappointing that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has continued to focus only on specific obligations and has not worked in partnership with the Inuvialuit towards the goals of this agreement."

According tothe report, the department:

  • hasnot ensured that Inuvialuitreceived a reasonable share of federal contracts in the region;
  • has dragged its feet on some land problems;
  • has noteven set down a plan to ensure that its obligations under the agreement are met.

"I often get the impression that people are very busy and focused on trying to reach an agreement and think that somehow success is when that agreement is signed," Fraser said.

"The follow-up, and all the effort necessary in implementation, just isn't there."

Ottawa has yet to fix land transfer mistakes

Fraser said Ottawa mistakenly transferred some lands in 1984 — including some parcels holding municipal infrastructure owned by the territorial government and part of a runway belonging to Transport Canada.

Those errors have yet to be resolved. In some cases, the Inuvialuit are actually billing theNorthwest Territories government for using the land transferred by mistake. Ottawa hasrefused to help with the bills or arrange land swaps.

Nor has the government acted to transfer parcels of land — mainly military and research stations — it no longer needs, the report found.

"There was [a] land transfer that shouldn't have been transferred. There are parcels of land that the government is no longer using that should be transferred over to the Inuvialuit. That isn't done," Fraser said.

She said the department has not identified areas of federal responsibility or the government departments responsible for them in the Inuvialuit final agreement. When department officials were asked for that information, they could only produce a list of sections of the agreement for which it was responsible.

Thereport found that Indian and Northern Affairs "has yet to show the leadership and commitment necessary to meet the federal obligations and achieve the goals of the agreement."

'We have this problem right across the North,' MP says

Indian and Northern Affairs officials told her they don't believe that the department has a responsibility to achieve the goals set out in the agreement, including preservation of native identity, improving the economic status of the Inuvialuit and protecting the environment.

"They stated that the agreement obliges them neither to achieve these goals nor to measure progress towards them."

Thatattitude shows thatthe department is taking the same legalistic approach to the Inuvialuit agreement that it has with previous deals, Fraser said.

In her 2003 report on the Gwich'in and Nunavut agreements, she said the department was following the letter, not the spirit or intent, of those agreements.

"It's getting to be a real sad point nowadays when you have to have the auditor general involved to get their obligations met," said Eddie Dillon, a former vice-president of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., which manages the implementation of the agreement.

"I mean, just it's a sad day in Canadian history to come to that point."

NDP MP Dennis Bevington, who represents the Western Arctic, said he has come to expect these issuesfrom Indian and Northern Affairs.

"We have this problem right across the North," he said. "We have this problem in Nunavut. This is not isolated to the Inuvialuit."

Fraser did find that Ottawa had met its environmental and wildlife obligations and was working with the Inuit in these areas.

The report said the government agreed with Fraser's recommendations and has committed to following up on them by March. Among other things, Indian and Northern Affairs agreed to speed up the handling of the land questions.

The Inuvialuit are not the only aboriginal group that has taken issue with how its land claim was handled. Yukon First Nations, along with the Yukon government, have also complained about how Ottawa implemented land claims in their territory.

Leaders from the territorial government and First Nations plan to raise the issue when Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl visits the Yukon next week.

With files from the Canadian Press