'We're preaching the same things over and over.'

NTI head pushes Strahl on land claims pact

By JOHN BIRD

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Paul Kaludjak wants Indian and Northern Affairs minister Chuck Strahl to "do something nobody else has done before" – implement the Nunavut land claims agreement.

Kaludjak is even a little bit hopeful that it could happen.

When Strahl met with Kaludjak and Kevin McKay of the Nisga'a Nation, earlier this month, he became the first federal cabinet minister to go face-to-face with the co-chairs of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition.

The meeting coincided with the LCAC's release of its document, "Honour, Spirit and Intent: A model Canadian policy on the full implementation of modern treaties between aboriginal peoples and the crown."

The LCAC has 21 members, including the four Inuit organizations that signed land claims agreements with Canada – NTI, the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., Makivik Corp., and the Nunatsiavut Government.

The rest are first nations groups, like the Nisga'a Nation, the Grand Council of the Crees, the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach. All 21 have signed modern-day treaties, or land claims agreements, with the federal government.

From the tone of the LCAC document, the coalition seems to be taking the federal government by the hand and walking it gently but firmly through the playground like a little child, explaining, "this is how you behave here, this is what you do there."

A major roadblock to implementation, Kaludjak said, has always been that many other departments besides Indian and Northern Affairs, are involved, including Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service, and of course, the treasury department.

"We're trying to get them to streamline the process," he said, "to get all the departments tuned up and singing together. Right now it's a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing and the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. We've seen that a lot in discussions with federal departments."

"It's still a struggle," he added, "but I think minister Strahl is interested in our claim. And that, in itself, is a good indication. It's something new."

Strahl promised Kaludjak and McKay that he would look into the state of the implementation process, to try to get a clear picture of progress – if any – and to see when and how implementation has become stalled.

When NTI signed the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement in 1993, the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic surrendered forever their aboriginal title to nearly two million square km of land and water – the largest land surrender in the world.

In return they got about $1.2 billion in a trust fund, protections for their harvesting rights and identity within the new territory of Nunavut, and a 300-page agreement full of federal promises to do many other things to help build the economy and infrastructure so beneficiaries can live healthy, productive lives.

But although the Inuit relinquished their land title immediately upon signing, federal follow-through – or "implementation" of their side of the bargain – has dragged.

Kaludjak described the relationship with Ottawa as a frustrating cycle in which "we're preaching the same things over and over. This is your obligation – to honour the terms of the NLCA."

In 2003, federal foot-dragging moved NTI to help form the LCAC, on the theory that there is strength in numbers.

And in December 2006, the Inuit organization took an even bolder step. It launched a lawsuit against Canada, citing a long list of promises made to the Inuit in the land claims agreement that it says have not been fulfilled.

They include:

  • inadequate funding for the Institutions of Public Government like the Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Impact Review Board, and for Hunters and Trappers Organizations;
  • no planning or action to monitor the health of the natural environment, society or the economy;
  • no action to improve training and employment for Inuit, including within and beyond the government, and help in developing Inuit-owned businesses; and
  • no Inuit impact and benefit agreements negotiated related to parks, and underfunding of the IIBA process.

Little progress has been made in the lawsuit since 2006 either, as the federal government continues to try to force the courts to recognize the Government of Nunavut as co-responsible for implementation of the land claim agreement – even though the GN did not even exist when the agreement was signed between Canada and NTI.

Meanwhile, Canada has provided some additional funding for the IPGs, but the causes of the lawsuit remain substantially unaddressed, Kaludjak said.

"We will progress with it until action is taken," he added. As will the work of the LCAC continue.

Meanwhile, his hopes – and they are faint ones – rest with the promises of Strahl.

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