Nunavik offshore agreement on hold again

A lot of time and money on the line

By JANE GEORGE

Makivik Corporation negotiators met in Ottawa this week to salvage a long-awaited offshore agreement between Quebec Inuit and the federal government.

But disputes over territory on the Labrador coast and an impending federal election have stalled talks.

The offshore agreement would extend Quebec Inuit rights to marine areas off the coast of Nunavik and the northernmost tip of Labrador. It was supposed to be reached by March 31, 1997.

It is the second time the deadline for a deal has been pushed back. Negotiators had originally wanted to reach an agreement in August, 1996.

“We’re trying to finalize a package and take it as far as we can,” says Makivik negotiator Lorraine Brooke, “but we haven’t yet been able to complete it.”

The agreement could be as large in scope as the Nunavut Land Claim, worth, according to some estimates, as much as $1.5 billion.

Makivik Corp. was hoping that this new influx of money would create several new organizations and new programs in the areas of wildlife management, culture and economic development.

Approximately $1.5 million was spent in 1995 and again in 1996 negotiating the agreement. This money is considered as a loan from the federal government and must be repaid after the final settlement.

Makivik Corp. went to court in March to stop negotiations on the creation of the proposed Torngat National Park in northern Labrador until the offshore agreement is finalized.

The Inuit birthright corporation first made claims to Labrador back in 1989. The first maps of the overlap area ended at Hebron, a community on the northern Labrador coast, but Makivik now seeks a strip of coastline down past nickel-rich Voisey’s Bay.

Now, Newfoundland has asked for a recess in negotiations on the Labador land claim. This move also stalls the offshore deal.

Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Ron Irwin is on record saying the resolution of land claims would be a priority for the Liberal party before the upcoming federal election.

Negotiators hope that this goodwill still exists and will survive another election.

“There’s a desire to conclude,” says Brooke, “but it’s not at any cost.”

The deadline for the final agreement will likely be postponed until late summer, 1997.

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