Inuit celebrate self-government turnover
Almost three decades after land claim negotiations started, self-government becomes reality for Labrador Inuit Thursday.
Poor weather prevented Premier Danny Williams and other officials from making a flight from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Nain, where ceremonies are being held.
An inaugural cabinet was sworn in during a ceremony in Nain, and the constitution of Nunatsiavut – the name of the land that Inuit will govern – has been adopted.
A land claim was formally signed in January, and received royal assent in June.
Toby Andersen, chief negotiator of the Labrador Inuit Association's claim, said he is overwhelmed that a long-held dream has now come true.
"For me, personally, I never thought I'd live to see this day, but here it is and here we are," said Andersen, who will serve as clerk in the new government's assembly, and the person responsible for implementing the claim.
"Words can't explain it. The elation is overwhelming."
The Nunatsiavut agreement covers 72,520 square kilometres of northern Labrador.
Of that, the Inuit own 15,800 square kilometres – a territory about a quarter the size of Nova Scotia, but only two per cent of Labrador's sprawling land mass.
Nunatsiavut means "our beautiful land" in Inuktitut.
Change will be gradual
Thursday officially marked the turnover of power, allowing Inuit to make their own laws relating to cultural affairs, education and health.
As part of the change, the Labrador Inuit Association ceases to exist, and has been replaced by the new Nunatsiavut government. The first cabinet will be made up of the former board of directors of the LIA.
Officials say the actual takeover will be gradual.
"Right off the bat, people are going to see some things, and then over time we're going to want to look at transition into the education system," said Gary Baikie, who will be sworn in as Nunatsiavut's first finance minister.
Baikie said the LIA has the option of taking control of the justice system.
The new government has committed to holding its first election within a year.