Nfld. & Labrador

Innu Nation asks federal court to quash NunatuKavut agreement with federal government

The application also challenges NunatuKavut's Indigenous identity under Canada's Constitution.

The application also challenges NunatuKavut's identity as Indigenous people under the Constitution

Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich says NunatuKavut's memorandum of understanding with the federal government affects the Innu Nation's land claim. (CBC)

The Innu Nation 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.

NCC President Todd Russell signs the memorandum of understanding with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett in early September. (Nunatukavut.ca)

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.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich told CBC News on Tuesday that his group has been at the negotiation table for 15 years with the federal government, and it took 15 years before those negotiations started to gather resources to back up the group's land claim.  

"The heart of this claim is basically the land and the rights of the Innu people. When we first heard that the NunatuKavut signed an MOU with Canada it was a surprise to us, because it affects our land rights negotiation with the federal government," Rich said.

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.

Russell said his group is looking at the same map, which was produced decades ago, and said there's no truth to the claim the map will impede on the Innu Nation land claims negotiation.

Russell said the NCC is willing to sit down to discuss land claims overlap, points of common interest and areas where there may be a conflict.

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.

Not a first

Russell said the Innu Nation has taken a position against the group's legitimacy as an Indigenous group at least three or four times in the past. 

"We are certainly hurt. We feel that these words, these allegations, these lies are meant to inflict hurt," he said.

"We come from Inuit. We live on the land of our ancestors. We're still there. So our affirmation of who we are is not up for questioning."

The president of the NCC said Innu Nation's comments about his people, their culture and their identities are racist — pointing directly at Grand Chief Rich.

Russell said Innu Nation needs to be held accountable for their comments, and added that he would expect negative comments about the NunatuKavut to come from federal or provincial governments, instead of the Innu Nation.

"The federal government recognizes who we are, the provincial government recognizes who we are, the courts have  recognized who we are. We know who we are, and it seemingly is only the Innu Nation that is trumpeting these particular words and allegations," he said.    

He called the Innu Nation court action a form of lateral violence, in which one Indigenous group uses colonialist practices to willingly hurt another Indigenous group.

CBC has asked the federal government and Yvonne Jones for their responses. Both were not immediately available.

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About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.