Labrador's Inuit cheer land agreement
Labrador's 5,000 Inuit people made their largest step ever towards self-government Saturday, in a signing ceremony that included an apology for a forced relocation program half a century ago.
The Labrador Inuit Association signed a land claims agreement in Nain with officials of the federal and provincial government.
The signing ceremony – which was delayed a day because of stormy weather – paves the way for an autonomous government in Nunatsiavut, the Inuit word for "our beautiful land."
External site: Labrador Inuit Association
The agreement, which has yet to be formally approved by the House of Commons, covers 72,520 square kilometres of northern Labrador.
The Inuit will become the owners of 15,800 square kilometres of land two per cent of Labrador's land mass and they will co-manage the remaining area.
The Inuit also will have special rights along the coast to 44,030 square kilometres of sea.
"It certainly is a step forward. It is a step in the right direction," says Nain resident Gary Baikie. "It will give us a chance now to control our own destiny."
Premier Danny Williams says the new agreement also marks a chance for the government to make amends for the past.
"History has not always been kind to our aboriginal peoples, and today with the signing of this agreement we have an opportunity to right that wrong," Williams says.
"History has not always been kind to our aboriginal peoples, and today with the signing of this agreement we have an opportunity to right that wrong." - Danny Williams
Williams also tried to right another wrong by formally apologizing for the forced resettlement of the Inuit communities of Hebron and Nutak during the 1950s.
Williams said the province will help erect a monument to the relocation of Nutak and Hebron. The monument will feature the text of an apology.
'God bless you, Inuit': MHA
Wally Andersen, the member of the House of Assembly for Torngat Mountains, found the experience overwhelming.
"This is our land, our culture, and this is our home," Andersen told a cheering crowd. "God bless you, Inuit."
The LIA filed a land claim in 1977.
The ceremony marks the end of the last Inuit land claims agreement in Canada.
Andy Scott, the federal minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, represented the federal government.
Under the agreement, the LIA will automatically receive $5 million to continue its works until Parliament ratifies the agreement.
The House of Assembly ratified the agreement in its fall sitting.
More than three quarters of Labrador's eligible Inuit voted to ratify the agreement in a referendum held last spring.
The land claim agreement gives members of the Labrador Inuit Association land, mineral and marine rights, and the means to establish their own government.
The package involves $130 million in compensation, provincial royalties from resource development, and another $120 million to establish self-government.
The agreement includes benefits for the more than 2,000 Inuit living in Labrador, but outside the settlement area.
The Inuit also will gain the right to control health, education and justice in five communities.
Change will take time: LIA
LIA president William Andersen III cautions that Inuit should not expect a sudden change in economic fortunes, including more jobs.
"There's a lot more in the agreement that allows for us to take over other public services, like justice, education [and] hospitals. You name it, it's in there," he says.
"But we don't want to try to do it all at once. We want to grow into it."
Andersen says the LIA is counting on Inuit who left their homes to pursue post-secondary degrees and who now live outside the land claims area to return to help staff the new government.