Charlie Watt wants another term at Makivik helm to pursue Nunavik’s self-determination
“I’m in the perfect place to do this,” says former senator seeking re-election as president of region’s Inuit birthright organization
Makivik Corp. is the birthright organization of Inuit in Nunavik. Its main role is to administer the region’s land claim, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
Makivik’s president serves as the corporation’s chief executive officer and chairman of its board of directors, exercising general supervision over the organization’s affairs. The president serves a three-year term.
The election will be held Feb. 4. Polls will be open in Nunavik’s communities from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Advance polls will be held Jan. 28.
Makivik Corp.’s president Charlie Watt said he has started something and he intends to complete it.
That’s why the 76-year-old former senator and part-founder of Makivik is running for another term as president.
Watt plans to use the time to negotiate and secure self-government for Nunavik, a process he helped launch in 2018, and one he feels he’s best qualified to see through.
“I’m the only one with parliamentary experience,” Watt said. “I know people at a high level. I’m in the perfect place to do this.”
Watt served as Makivik’s president from 1978 to 1982 and again from 1988 to 1994. He was elected as president a third time in 2018.
Under Watt’s leadership in 2019, Makivik signed an agreement with the federal government that serves as a framework for negotiations towards an Inuit self-government for the region.
It’s unclear exactly what powers that agreement would transfer to Nunavik, but Watt said the region wants to administer responsibility of its own public services and secure jurisdiction over its natural resources.
“I think we’re on the right track,” Watt said. “We’re in in-depth discussions with the federal government and now we have to bring the provincial government in.”
Once Quebec is involved, Watt said the parties will need to discuss revenue-sharing and a dispute-resolution mechanism.
“It might require a longer time than three years, but I’d at least like to be able to get to the point where the discussion is underway,” Watt said.
“This is probably my last move. I’m going to push it one more time and get that done.”
Watt also wants to see major changes to the youth-protection legislation currently in place for Nunavik.
Quebec’s Youth Protection Act, updated in 2016, allows the province to enter into agreements with Indigenous communities to design and deliver their own youth-protection programs.
That’s a process that Nunavik’s health department has embarked on to develop more culturally appropriate services for the region.
But Watt wants Nunavik to go a step further.
“[Health officials] are looking at it administratively, but I’m looking at it jurisdictionally,” he said. “[Nunavimmiut are] having their kids taken away. And right now, we have no say at all about what happens to those kids.”
Similarly, Watt hopes to usher in changes to how justice is administered in Nunavik.
Makivik Corp. has been in discussions with the Quebec government about streamlining that system, which is largely reliant on an out-of-region court and prison system.
“A lot of our young people are in penitentiaries in the south,” he said.
“We’re looking at new ways of looking after these people, at home,” he said. “Some of them are dangerous, we know that. But some of them are picked up for minor things and are put into jail.”