Nfld. & Labrador

NunatuKavut moves closer to self-governance with new agreement with federal government

The president of the NunatuKavut Community Council says a new agreement with the federal government lays the foundation for future negotiation of Indigenous rights and self-governance — but the chief of the Innu Nation slammed the signing as "double-dealing."

Innu Nation slams memorandum of understanding as 'double-dealing'

NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell says an agreement signed with the federal government is going to help NunatuKavut along to reconciliation. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The president of the NunatuKavut Community Council says a new agreement with the federal government lays the foundation for future negotiation of Indigenous rights and self-governance.

"It is a significant, meaningful and important day for the Inuit of NunatuKavut. It was a day that we have long fought for, that our people have fought for and it was a marvellous signing ceremony," Todd Russell, NunatuKavut Community Council president told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning on Friday, a day after the council signed a memorandum of understanding in Toronto with the federal government.

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

Russell said the signing marks the beginning of more than just a claim to land. He said it's the beginning of getting direly needed health supports, the ability to harvest from the water to feed their families, and educational opportunities for the youth, and eventual self-governance.

"What a proud day that's going to be," he said.

A proud day

Liberal MP Yvonne Jones told CBC News the federal government's recognition of NunatuKavut is an important step toward inclusivity.  

Jones grew up in NunatuKavut territory, is a descendent of Inuit ancestors and represents the riding of Labrador in the House of Commons.

Russell showed off the new official NunatuKavut flag at the annual general assembly in 2018. (NunatuKavut/Facebook)

"I know today they would be proud. Proud to know that they live in a country where they have been recognized as full Indigenous people, and that the lands they love, the waters they love are being recognized as their homeland as well," she said. 

Jones acknowledged there is still a long road ahead of the council and the federal government, but she puts full stock in council leadership to deliver negotiations, programs and services for its communities.

'Double-dealing,' says Innu chief

But the memorandum of understanding hasn't been received well by everyone.  

Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich said he's infuriated in what he calls Canada's "double-dealing," and suggested Jones fast-tracked the NCC through the negotiation process by putting her own self-interests as a member of the NCC in front of her responsibilities as the MP for Labrador. 

"We are angered and we disagree with it. We've been at the negotiating table for close to 40 years," Rich told CBC News from the side of a highway on his way home from the elder gathering in Quebec. 

Rich's said the Innu nation has gone through a lengthy process and they therefore should have gotten a deal first. He's also angry that neither he, nor the Innu Nation, were given a heads-up that a deal was going to be struck. 

"We don't understand why NunatuKavut doesn't go through the same process as we did. It's not fair how they signed the MOU."

Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich is angry about the deal between the NCC and the federal government. (Bailey White/CBC)

Rich said northern Labrador communities feel underrepresented in the House of Commons, and said he believes Jones focuses on NunatuKavut and not Innu Nation or Nunatsiavut.

Rich also said he believes someone is stalling the Innu Nation land claim deal at the federal level and that the NCC deal is going to create more problems as both nations appear to claim ownership of some areas of land.  

"This new group is going to be a problem for us and the Innu Nation doesn't recognize this new group that claim to be Inuit," he said. 

Opening the door    

The signing of the memorandum between the NCC and the federal government should lead to future negotiations for other Indigenous groups across Canada, according to Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

Bennett said the federal government is committed to moving from nation to nation and understanding collective Indigenous nations' rights to establish new relationships with Canada.

MP Yvonne Jones says it's a proud day for NunatuKavut, but there is still work to be done. (Bailey White/CBC)

"These kinds of memoranda are sort of the guideposts to the next stage of the recognition, implementation of rights," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning