A dissident Nunavik community shifts towards the JBNQA
“We will be in better control of our own land affairs”
To an outsider, a lot has changed in Ivujivik in recent years, as Nunavik’s northernmost community has made the slow and quiet move to join the region’s land claims agreement — a move made official just this past week.
But in the 40 years since it was first signed, Ivujivimmiut have not so quietly been debating the merits of the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement.
Although the community came out strongly against the agreement in the 1970s, the tide began to turn through the 1980s.
“It became clear that there was a voice among the people to have an opportunity for economic development,” said Adamie Kalingo, a former mayor of Ivujivik, who is now president of the new Nuvummi Landholding Corp.
“They were looking at other landholding corporations who were making profit from the businesses they owned. Projects that benefited the people.”
Fourteen years after the treaty was signed, in 1989, Kalingo helped coordinate a referendum to gauge if the community had changed its thinking.
Many had, but not enough: voters opted to stay out of the agreement.
That discussion continued, however, as beneficiaries in Ivujivik watched neighbouring Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq start to reap benefits in the form of profit-sharing cheques from the nearby Raglan nickel mine.
The village coordinated a second referendum in 2006, which produced a clear majority in favour of joining the land claim.
“If I recall, it was over 73 per cent in favour,” Kalingo said.
With a decision in hand, the community began to work with Makivik Corp., which administers the agreement on behalf of Nunavik Inuit, to draft a complimentary agreement to the JBNQA.
“It was kind of a slow process; through these years, the province changed governments, but we persisted,” Kalingo said.
Part of the community’s work was to select and negotiate its Category 1 and 2 Inuit-owned lands.
The community didn’t have a lot of choice over how much land it could designate as Category 1, the subsurface of which belongs exclusively to Inuit.
But Ivujivik negotiated 525 square kilometres spanning its coastline, where the Hudson Bay meets the Hudson Strait, an important hunting ground for local Inuit and also home to old Hudson Bay trading posts.
That land was officially transferred to the Inuit of Ivujivik this past week, in a July 20 ceremony attended by enthusiastic Quebec government and Makivik officials.
No development can happen on Category 1 lands without the permission of Ivujivimmiut, who will in coming years decide if and how to develop that land themselves.
And, as the representative of the beneficiaries who are exclusive owners of those lands, the landholding corporation will now oversee any new housing development and give out construction permits.
Although there’s currently little mining exploration near to the community, “it’s always in the back of our minds,” Kalingo said.
“It’s feasible that we could ourselves be involved in mining, but that’s in the future for now,” he said. “It will take time, but we will be in better control of our own land affairs.”
It’s more likely the community will start local, and consider building and operating a hotel to its benefit as neighbouring communities have done, Kalingo suggested.
But for all the optimism that’s come from Ivujivik joining the JBNQA, an element of dissidence lingers.
As far back as the first negotiations towards the JBNQA, some Nunavimmiut have remained against the agreement because they say it signifies the surrender and extinguishment of Inuit lands and rights outside of Category 1 areas.
The dissidents, mostly focused in Ivujivik, Salluit and Puvirnituq — the only Nunavik community that is not party to the agreement today — formed a group called Inuit Tungavingat Nunamini, which served as the voice of dissidence.
As a community, Puvirnituq’s opposition has never wavered, although many Nunavimmiut believe its residents have still benefitted from the JBNQA, through the provision of social housing, and representation on JBNQA-created bodies.
Although no longer a majority in Ivujivik, Kalingo said the sentiment of opposition remains.
“Even though it was 40 years ago that the agreement was signed, it’s still very fresh in our minds,” he said.
“The surrender clause, which extinguished our hunting and fishing rights, made our leaders really angry,” he said. “But in retrospect, there was a lot of misunderstanding too.”
The federal government ran many services pre-land claims, Kalingo recalls, and once the JBNQA was implemented, created institutions like the Kativik School Board. Ivujivik, as a non-signatory, had no local school for two years.
But he said other provisions remain in the agreement, which Ivujivimmiut believe never did and never will apply to life in Nunavik, such as municipal regulations around dogs.
“It became illegal to have loose dogs, and we’re supposed to give out licenses,” Kalingo said. “People still laugh at that.”
And many opponents of the JBNQA still blame the agreement for Nunavik’s social ills.
“They take that as something they warned [us] about, that we were selling our own land for money, or for drugs and alcohol,” he said. “They wanted a government of their own — run by Inuit for Inuit.”