North·In Depth

Inuvialuit self-government: What's in the agreement-in-principle

The Inuvialuit could get control over delivering services such as health care, income assistance and social housing but the new powers would come with limits.

Deal could allow Inuvialuit to assume responsibility for health care, education

Mark Strahl, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Inuvialuit leader Nellie Cournoyea and N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod signed the Inuvialuit self-government agreement-in-principle in Inuvik, N.W.T., July 21. (David Thurton/CBC)

Nellie Cournoyea admits she didn't get everything she wanted in the Inuvialuit agreement-in-principle for self-government, but she said there's still much work to be done before a final agreement can be signed.

Cournoyea, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, signed the agreement-in-principle on Tuesday in Inuvik, N.W.T., along with N.W.T. premier Bob McLeod and Mark Strahl, parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

"There could be a lot in the agreement-in-principle that we would like to have had," said Cournoyea. "We will work towards that."

The agreement could affect more than 5,000 Inuvialuit, and possibly non-Inuvialuit, in six communities in the N.W.T.'s Beaufort-Delta region.

The Inuvialuit include the Inuit of the western Arctic, along the north coast of the N.W.T. (Statistics Canada)

Who will pay?

The agreement acknowledges that both Ottawa and the territorial government have a role in funding programs and services that an Inuvialuit government might take on.

Who will pay for those services has not been decided.

However, the agreement says the federal government is developing a "new national fiscal policy" that "may be provided to self-governing aboriginal groups in Canada."

Strahl, Cournoyea and McLeod hold up the documents. (David Thurton/CBC)
Another issue still to be decided is who will administer offshore leases of the Beaufort Sea's vast oil and gas reserves.

"We would want to get a stronger clearer negotiation on what happens offshore," Cournoyea said.

At a joint news conference after the signing of the agreement on Tuesday, McLeod agreed, saying six months after the territory signed its devolution agreement, negotiations on who controls the offshore were supposed to begin.

"Obviously elections are in the way but that's something we want to get going on," McLeod said.

Strahl attended the news conference but did not address these concerns.

Limits to new powers

Despite the need for further negotiations, the 86-page agreement-in-principle outlines a variety of areas for which an Inuvialuit government could assume responsibility.

That includes delivering health care, regulating adoption, performing marriages, developing income assistance programs, launching social housing and opening day cares and universities.

It also outlines restrictions on some of the new government's powers:

  • An Inuvialuit government could start traditional healing programs but it cannot regulate medical or health practices that require licensing or certification under any federal or territorial law. Nor can they regulate medical and health practitioners, such as doctors or nurses, who require licensing or certification by federal or territorial law.
  • An Inuvialuit government could impose fines or even imprison people who violate their laws. These sentences could reflect "the culture and values of the Inuvialuit," but sentences or punishment cannot be harsher than comparable offences under federal and territorial law. Negotiators still have to determine how such punishments would apply, if at all, to non-Inuvialuit.
  • An Inuvialuit government cannot establish a police force or issue firearm permits.

Cournoyea said many of the new powers in the agreement wouldn't be used immediately.

"Whether anyone understands or not, we are not going to become a government with everything in place and dealing with everything at once," she said.

Instead, she said the new government would begin by addressing priority issues such as education and how to increase class attendance.

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