Indige­nous self-de­ter­mi­na­tion talks be­gin

Fed­eral gov­ern­ment moves to­ward Indige­nous rights with Nu­natukavut Com­mu­nity Coun­cil

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - BY EVAN CAREEN

Dis­cus­sions have be­gun be­tween the Nu­natukavut Com­mu­nity Coun­cil (NCC) and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to rec­og­nize the Indige­nous rights and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion of NCC mem­bers, NCC pres­i­dent Todd Rus­sell an­nounced Thurs­day in Happy Val­ley-goose Bay.

“It means that we will be en­gaged in talks about our peo­ple once again and have de­ci­sion­mak­ing power over our lands and re­sources,” Rus­sell said. “It means a greater abil­ity to de­liver pro­grams and ser­vices like health care and ed­u­ca­tion that are aligned with our val­ues and way of life. It means that de­vel­op­ments and projects should only be hap­pen­ing on our land with our con­sent and par­tic­i­pa­tion. It means that we should never again lose an­other com­mu­nity to re­lo­ca­tion.”

Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett said the process looks dif­fer­ent than it has in the past. She said they are re­plac­ing the com­pre­hen­sive claims pol­icy and in­her­ent rights pol­icy with a recog­ni­tion of rights and then dis­cussing how it’s im­ple­mented and ex­er­cised.

“Right now we are re­ally ex­cited by the promise of the gover­nance the Nu­natukavut gov­ern­ment and com­mu­nity coun­cil are al­ready demon­strat­ing and now we get to sit down and work out what those rights look like,” Ben­nett said.

When asked if land would be part of the claim, Ben­nett said it would be part of the on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions. She gave ex­am­ples of other Indige­nous groups that pri­or­i­tized rights over land, such as health care and ed­u­ca­tion.

Rus­sell said NCC has ideas on what they want to see in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, and land is cer­tainly part of it.

“We’ve al­ways said land is fun­da­men­tal to our iden­tity and where we’re from,” he said. “Of course land will form part of the dis­cus­sions go­ing for­ward.”

He said the pre­vi­ous land claim process was in­her­ently bi­ased and this new process holds more po­ten­tial, but it’s more about the health and well­be­ing of the peo­ple.

“It’s about pre­serv­ing our cul­ture and way of life, and what we’re an­nounc­ing to­day is a process to get­ting us there,” Rus­sell said.

In terms of a time­frame, both the NCC and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment said it’s hard to pin down be­cause it’s an on­go­ing process.

NCC mem­ber Richard Miche­lin of North West River said he waited and prayed for this day.

“Like all our peo­ple, I’ve been pushed around for years, put down, and maybe now it’ll set­tle down,” he said.

Miche­lin said a lot of things went on over the years, like peo­ple los­ing the lan­guage. He says if a per­son spoke Inuk­ti­tut they were put down.

“Now every­thing has changed. It’s get­ting bet­ter.”

Innu op­pose plan

Mean­while, the Innu Na­tion had some strong words for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in re­ac­tion to the an­nounce­ment that the feds and Nu­natukavut would move ahead with indige­nous rights ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Peter Pe­nashue, a for­mer Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Labrador and mem­ber of the Innu Na­tion land claim ne­go­ti­a­tion team, said the an­nounce­ment cre­ates a “real mess for land claim ne­go­ti­a­tions in Labrador for the next 30 years.”

The Innu Na­tion has been ne­go­ti­at­ing its land claim with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment since 1977 and is now in the fi­nal stages. Pe­nashue said this move to rec­og­nize Indige­nous rights for Nu­natukavut jeop­ar­dizes all of that.

“It’s a new group and sud­denly we find our­selves need­ing to fight over land with this new group, NCC or the Metis. And now, af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions with Canada and New­found­land for over 30 years, we’re go­ing to have a dis­pute over land,” he said. “Be­cause they’re go­ing to be seek­ing the same rights in those land we have cho­sen and we have se­lected.”

Pe­nashue said they ex­pect Nu­natukavut to claim the Muskrat Falls and Lower Churchill ar­eas, which is go­ing to com­pli­cate the Innu Na­tion’s claim on the same lands.

The Innu Na­tion feels the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should have con­cluded the land claim with them be­fore speak­ing to an­other group, Pe­nashue said.

He said they ob­vi­ously dis­pute the Nu­natukavut claim on those lands and he dis­putes whether they should be con­sid­ered Abo­rig­i­nal.

“They (have) ob­vi­ously been here for some time and a lot of them have been born here. But are they Abo­rig­i­nal? ... I don’t think so,” he said.

The Nu­natukavut Com­mu­nity

Coun­cil was pre­vi­ously known as the Labrador Metis As­so­ci­a­tion and changed its name in 2010. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2016 that cer­tain groups of what are com­monly known as Metis have the same rights as other Indige­nous groups. Pe­nashue said in his opin­ion this sets a prece­dent in Canada.

“There has never been a group that sprung out of nowhere that’s sud­denly an Abo­rig­i­nal group,” he said.

He said there have been long­stand­ing Abo­rig­i­nal groups in the ter­ri­to­ries and other places in the North, but they’ve al­ways known each other as be­ing Abo­rig­i­nal groups.

“Now here we are in a very un­usual cir­cum­stance, set­tlers be­com­ing Metis be­com­ing Inuit and now are go­ing to fight us over land. That’s a very un­usual case.”

Pe­nashue said this should be a con­cern for all First Na­tions who have treaties with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. He said Metis groups have never been able to prove they have land ti­tle and land rights be­fore, but now the Metis across the coun­try are en­ti­tled to have land claims.

“That’s a huge fun­da­men­tal change in Cana­dian pol­icy. This is huge. I don’t know if you have an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what Canada has done to­day. This is his­toric. They have now rec­og­nized a group, in this case the Metis, to be rec­og­nized first of all as be­ing Indige­nous and rec­og­niz­ing them as hav­ing land rights. And that’s go­ing to have a huge im­pact across the coun­try.”

PHOTO BY EVAN CAREEN

From left, Cartwright-l’anse au Clair MHA Lisa Demp­ster, Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, Nu­natukavut Com­mu­nity Coun­cil (NCC) pres­i­dent Todd Rus­sell and Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett all spoke at the an­nounce­ment on Thurs­day in Happy Val­ley-goose Bay.

PHOTO BY EVAN CAREEN

From left, Innu Na­tion land claim ne­go­ti­at­ing team mem­ber David Nuke, Innu Na­tion Deputy Grand Chief Eti­enne Rich, Innu Na­tion Grand Chief Gre­gory Rich and land claim ne­go­ti­at­ing team mem­ber Peter Pe­nashue speak to re­porters Thurs­day.

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