Makivik makes peace with dissident Nunavik group to quell decades-old rift

“What they’re looking for at this point is unity"

By SARAH ROGERS

Makivik Corp. held its annual general meeting in Puvirnituq March 19-23, which hosted the six surviving signatories of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. That's where board members voted to acknowledge the dissident group Inuit Tungavingat Nunamini (ITN) for its support of Inuit rights and political advancement of the region. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK CORP)


Makivik Corp. held its annual general meeting in Puvirnituq March 19-23, which hosted the six surviving signatories of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. That’s where board members voted to acknowledge the dissident group Inuit Tungavingat Nunamini (ITN) for its support of Inuit rights and political advancement of the region. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK CORP)

Makivik Corp. wants to put an end to a decades-old rift between Nunavik communities over the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Makivik’s board of directors voted unanimously last month to acknowledge Inuit Tungavingat Nunamini (ITN)—a group that formed in opposition to Nunavik’s signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in the 1970s—for its support of Inuit rights and political advancement in the region.

In the early 1970s, Makivik’s predecessor, the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, formed to respond to the Quebec government’s plans to develop hydro power across the region.

The NQIA soon became the legal body negotiating with Quebec on a land claims agreement.

Many pieces of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement were controversial among Inuit, but none so much as its surrender clause, which would cede rights over the vast majority of Nunavik’s land base to the provincial government.

Dissent had already grown along the region’s Hudson coast communities of Puvirnituq, Ivujivik and Salluit, which formed ITN in opposition to the surrender clause.

Eliassie Sallualuk, a former member of Nunavik’s negotiating team who went on to help form ITN, was interviewed for a 2015 documentary that explored the signing of Nunavik’s land claims agreement.

“Would we have accepted without the [surrender] clause? Absolutely,” Sallualuk recalled in the film.

But as negotiators drew closer to a signed agreement, tension rose among Nunavimmiut.

At one point in the process, when NQIA negotiators visited the Hudson coast, they were threatened with weapons. Negotiations even caused divisions among families.

“When the families started splitting over the agreement, that hurt people,” said Makivik President Charlie Watt, one of the agreement’s signatories.

“We’re trying to bring the people back together.”

In the resolution passed at its March meeting in Puvirnituq, Makivik acknowledged ITN and “the role it played by providing leverage to the negotiators of the JBNQA in their negotiations with Quebec, Hydro-Quebec and Canada.”

In a separate resolution, Makivik also vote in favour of a reconciliation process that would “recover harmony among the Inuit of Nunavik.”

The resolution doesn’t specify an amount of money, but it commits to funding for “healing and reconciliation processes” to be made available for families who were affected by that division.

“Even ordinary residents were coming to the meeting to voice their ideas,” Watt said of the organization’s AGM in Puvirnituq. “What they’re looking for at this point is unity.”

In recent years, one dissident community has since opted to sign on to the JBNQA; residents of Ivujivik voted in a referendum to join the land claims agreement, which was made official in 2015.

“The surrender clause, which extinguished our hunting and fishing rights, made our leaders really angry,” said Adamie Kalingo, a former mayor of Ivujivik. “But in retrospect, there was a lot of misunderstanding too.”

In fact, most Nunavimmiut have always wanted the same thing, Watt said.

As Makivik’s founding president, who was recently re-elected to his old job, Watt returned to the birthright organization on a pledge to breathe new life into the issue of Inuit self-determination.

The JBNQA’s surrender clause is one he intends to revisit and hopes to see removed.

“That was a colonial approach taken long ago,” he said.

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