Inuit poised to gain control of large territory in Quebec

A vast swath of mineral-rich land in northern Quebec is en route to become a self-governed region run by the province's 11,000 Inuit, officials said Monday.

A vast swath of mineral-rich land in northern Quebecis en routeto become a self-governed region run by the province's 11,000 Inuit, officialssaid Monday.

The proposed Inuit territory of Nunavik. ((CBC))

Theterritory, representing about one-third of Quebec's land,would have the power to collect its own taxes, make its own laws and run its own services, including its own hospitals, schools, child services and airports.

It would be governed by an assembly of 21 members, including an elected leader and a cabinet of five elected officials. The assembly would oversee the territory's 14 villages, with the village of Kuujjuaq as the capital.

Plans for theterritory, known as Nunavik, are laid out in an agreement in principle drafted by negotiators for the governments of Quebec and Canada, and the Makivik Corp., which oversees Inuit institutions.

The agreement is expected to be in place by 2009.

Jean-François Arteau, a lawyer for Makivik, is encouraged that an agreement has emerged after 30 years of negotiations.

"It's a big step in the right direction," he told CBC News, noting that the governments of Canada and Quebec, as well as the Makivik people, still need to give final approval to deal.

The territory, borderedon the south by the 55th parallel,would remain part of Quebec and would be subordinate to the province's national assembly and the Canadian House of Commons.

Still, it wouldnot simply be a symbolic territory, Quebec Aboriginal Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier insisted.

"It will be the opposite," Pelletier told the Canadian Press. "We are really heading towards a regional government in Nunavik."

The Globe and Mail reported Monday that the new Nunavik territory will get money from both the federal and provincial governments.

Nunavik will also get millions of dollars in royalties from mining companies with projects in the territory, although the Nunavik government will notown the rights to the subsurface minerals on the territory, the Globe reported.

Arteau said the new deal, most importantly, will give the Inuit people the power to make decisions about the social problems and youth protection issues their communities sometimes face.

"With this new regional government, the elected officials have now the opportunity and the power to allocate money where the priorities are," he said.

With files from the Canadian Press