Nfld. & Labrador

NunatuKavut's negotiations with Ottawa face another challenge, as Nunatsiavut enters the fray

The Nunatsiavut government is joining the Innu Nation to challenge the negotiations in court.

'We have very clear boundaries around our land claims agreement,' says Nunatsiavut's first minister

Tyler Edmunds, left, is sworn in as first minister of the Nunatsiavut government in January. (Submitted)

The NunatuKavut Community Council's negotiations with Ottawa around self-determination are facing another challenge, as the Nunatsiavut government says it's wading into the legal effort to end those talks. 

The matter stems from September, when the NCC and Ottawa signed a memorandum of understanding, a promise between both sides to sit down and discuss a range of issues like health care, educational opportunities, self-governance and land claims.

The land claim issue is proving to be a sticking point with Nunatsiavut, which says it was never passed by them first.

"In the case of the NCC memorandum of understanding and the talks of potential rights affiliated with the land, we have not been engaged by the government of Canada throughout this process and we are intervening on this basis," said Tyler Edmunds, first minister of the Nunatsiavut government.

"We have very clear boundaries around our land claims agreement, and even any potential that the area of our land claims agreement is being considered by another party, we have a right to be aware of that."

To that end, the Nunatsiavut government is joining the Innu Nation, which in October applied to the federal court asking it to intervene and stop the MOU.

The Innu Nation has said in the past that the MOU undermines its own decades-long land claims negotiations with Ottawa, and its court filing states that NunatuKavut's land claim significantly overlaps with it. The Innu Nation has also submitted to the court that it does not consider NCC members to be Indigenous, under Section 35 of the Constitution Act.

The NCC says it represents about 6,000 Inuit in southern and central Labrador.

NunatuKavut President Todd Russell says he is disappointed and surprised the Nunatsiavut government has chosen to intervene. (Bailey White/CBC)

'Harsh' move, says NCC

Todd Russell, NunatuKavut's president, told CBC News his group is disappointed and surprised the Nunatsiavut government has chosen to intervene.

"Our disappointment is around the remedy that Nunatsiavut government is seeking, which is to quash the MOU. If there are issues of consultation, there are other ways to address those particular issues," he said.

"I believe that the remedy that is being sought by Nunatsiavut is quite harsh. It is certainly not a requisite to their particular concern." 

Russell said the NCC has been transparent and open in its process with the federal government so far, noting potential impact on other groups and what the MOU entails has been made known.

"As to the consultations themselves, or the duty to consult, this is the first we had been made aware that that concern exists," said Russell.

Russell said that if there is concern about overlapping interests such as land claims, there are provisions in the MOU to discuss that, adding he and the NCC is open and welcomes any talks.

"At the end of the day each group is pursuing a vision for its people. They want to be healthy, they want to be happy, they want to have their culture and themselves respected, and they want good relationships with those around them," Russell said.

"That's what I feel." 

The NCC first filed a statement of claim for land with the federal government in 1991.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan