A lukewarm yes vote in Labrador
Except for those who are philosophically opposed to the idea of surrendering aboriginal title by way of a land claim agreement, the ratification of the Labrador Inuit land claim agreement-in-principle is good news.
The Labrador Inuit Association is the last Inuit group in Canada to negotiate a treaty, and the last to begin work on a structure for self-government within their settlement areas.
When the agreement becomes final, the Inuit of Labrador will be required to sign a document that surrenders their aboriginal title for all time. That means that They had better be prepared for the opposition they will face from a sizeable minority of beneficiaries who will inevitably be opposed to this.
If they don’t, they could be in for a nasty surprise when their final agreement is ready to be ratified two years from now.
The LIA has triumphantly reported this that over 8o per cent of eligible members voted Yes this week. That’s not quite true. Seventy-eight per cent of those who actually voted did say Yes to the agreement..
But a mere 49 per cent of LIA members on the list of eligible voters actually cast Yes ballots. Of the 3663 people eligible to vote, only 1784 said Yes, slightly less than half of the eligible total . Only 2284 people — about 62 per cent — bothered to turn out to vote.
That means that if the voting rules applied to the 1992 Nunavut land claim ratification vote had been applied to this week’s Labrador vote, the Labrador ratification vote would have failed.
The Nunavut vote required a Yes vote from a majority of all eligible benficiaries. Those who chose not to vote had the same effect on the outcome as those who voted No.
That rule will also apply to next Labrador ratification vote, the real one, when LIA beneficiaries will decide whether or not to surrender their aboriginal title in exhange for the rights and benefits set out in their final land claim agreement.
Seen in this light, this week’s ratification vote result in Labrador is hardly an overwhelming mandate for a legal agreement that is intended to last for all time. While it certainly provides the LIA leadership with a mandate to continue the process, it should also tell them that they have a lot of work to do in convincing alienated beneficiaries to actively support the deal.
In 1992, Nunavut endured a bitter campaign over the ratification of the Inuit land claim. Sixty-nine per cent of eligible beneficiaries voted Yes, but not until after a noisy, and somewhat one-sided contest between a well-funded Yes campaign and a scattered, poorly-funded No side. Though the entire political establishment exerted enormous pressure on beneficiaries to vote Yes, the No side nonetheless raised many valid questions about the wisdom of signing the agreement.
Since then, some No voters have accepted the result and are now working within the new land claim institutions, or with the Nunavut government. But others have not, and still believe that the Nunavut land claim agreement was a sell-out.
Labrador’s Inuit have a chance to learn from Nunavut’s experience. They’re lucky to have a second chance. JB