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MOU significant step forward for Nunatukavut

Nunatukavut Community Council president Todd Russell joined federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, centre, and Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, along with members of NCC, at the signing of the memorandum of understanding. CONTRIBUTED/THE LABRADOR VOICE
Nunatukavut Community Council president Todd Russell joined federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, centre, and Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, along with members of NCC, at the signing of the memorandum of understanding. CONTRIBUTED/THE LABRADOR VOICE - Contributed

Innu Nation concerned over speed of process

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. —

The Nunatukavut Community Council (NCC) is lauding an agreement signed between the Southern Inuit organization and the federal government.

The two parties signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on self-determination on Sept. 5, which NCC president Todd Russell called a significant step forward and the first modern agreement of its kind between his people and Canada.

“What this means to our people is for the first time in the modern times that the government of Canada can sit at the table with our people in a formal process that will give rise to agreements about our rights as Inuit,” he said. “It could talk about programs and services, heath supports, economic development, education support, environmental protections, agreements on fisheries and other things we harvest. What this means is that we now see a clearer path ahead to reaching agreements with the federal government on a range of issues and priorities.”

A release from the federal government said the goal of the process is to "move forward together to find shared and balanced solutions that advance reconciliation in a way that respects the interests of members of NCC and all Canadians."

Russell said the MOU was the result of extensive talks with government and the people of NCC to hammer out the details and they wanted to get the agreement in place before the federal election in the fall.

He said they anticipate agreements on some of the rights within the next few months, not years.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Greg Rich said the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Nunatukavut Community Council and the federal government undermines their land claim process. EVAN CAREEN/THE LABRADOR VOICE
Innu Nation Grand Chief Greg Rich said the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Nunatukavut Community Council and the federal government undermines their land claim process. EVAN CAREEN/THE LABRADOR VOICE

MOU ruffles feathers

However, not everyone in Labrador is happy about the memorandum.

The Innu Nation sent out a release hours after the announcement, expressing concerns about the lack of consultation and accusing Labrador MP Yvonne Jones of putting her own interests first.

“We are infuriated by Canada's double-dealing and by Yvonne Jones' deceptions," stated Grand Chief Gregory Rich. "By fast-tracking the NCC through the negotiation process, she is putting her own self-interests as a member of the NCC in front of her responsibilities as the Member of Parliament for all Labrador to ensure fair representation for everyone in Labrador.”

The Innu Nation said they were not made aware this announcement was coming and it directly undermines their own land claim process, which has been underway since 1977.

Russell said the process wasn’t fast tracked and it is has been going through the federal government approval system since February or March, with member consultations on the MOU going back a year.

“This process has undergone a tremendous amount of scrutiny, rigor, that’s part of the reason why it took so long to reach this MOU,” he said. “The Innu are at the end of their process, we’re at the beginning stages of ours.”

When asked about this claim crossing over into other land claim areas, those of the Innu Nation and Nunatsiavut, Russell said that all of the land claims in Labrador overlap each other and it isn’t something unusual.

“That is a feature of facts, of history and how we live in the modern context,” he said. “There is overlap, that’s not uncommon. This is part of this process all over Canada, whether you’re in BC, the Yukon, or Labrador. This can give rise to conflict but also give rise to an opportunity for cooperation.”

He said he hopes for a time when all groups can sit at the table together and reach reconciliation among themselves, not just with the government.

“Some of the language (the Innu Nation) use is fairly inflammatory, inaccurate, wrong, and done with a view to sometimes perpetuate misunderstandings,” he said. “I’m still hopeful there will be a day we can all sit at the table in a respectful manner and move forward together.”

The Labrador Voice reached out to Yvonne Jones for comment but she was unavailable before press deadline.

evan.careen@thelabradorvoice.ca

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