Labrador Inuit: No land claim agreement yet

Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin caught Labrador’s Inuit off guard when he released details of a confidential negotiating document last week. But the LIA says Tobin’s deal may not be the deal that Labrador Inuit will settle for.


Special to Nunatsiaq News

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY The board of the Labrador Inuit Association says the Newfoundland and Canadian governments do not have a land claims deal with Labrador Inuit, despite mounting pressure from Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin.

Negotiators haven’t even finished work on a draft agreement-in-principle.

But last week, Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin called a press conference to announce the details of a document that his government will use to negotiate half a dozen unresolved issues that are standing in the way of an agreement.

They include how much money Inuit will get from the giant Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit located 35 km south of Nain.

Land quantum, compensation payments from the federal government and some details of self-government are also described in Tobin’s document.

It’s a document that would normally remain confidential until a complete agreement in principle is reached.

No deal yet

“It just creates a perception out there this is a done deal. I have to say it’s not yet a deal,” said LIA President William Barbour. He said the document will be used to continue negotiations on an agreement-in-principle.

Negotiators for the LIA, along with the federal and Newfoundland governments, initialled the document in Ottawa last month after a marathon 12-day bargaining session. The board of the LIA met in Nain last week and gave their approval to it.

The LIA wasn’t planning to announce any of the details to members because the three parties agreed to keep them confidential.

Supposed to be confidential

So the premier’s announcement came as a surprise and the LIA’s co-chief negotiator, Toby Andersen, says it may reduce his ability to change the details in the document.

“We felt there was some room for further discussions between now and the agreement-in-principle stage,” Andersen said.

“What’s happening now is LIA is locked into the principles as being the final negotiations. Maybe there’s no more room for negotiation,” Anderson said.

Most people heard the details of the document from Tobin first. The LIA scrambled to catch up, sending out a six-page flyer to each household at the end of the week.

LIA over a barrel?

“He’s putting LIA over a barrel more than ever now,” said Ronald Webb, taking a break from building a qamutik. “It’s hard to figure what the premier has up his sleeve.”

The week’s events didn’t sit well with Nain’s mayor either. “Most of the time negotiations are pre-determined,” said Johannes Lampe. “To me it’s like they’re saying you have to do this our way.”

But Toby Andersen says the membership will have the last word on an agreement-in-principle when one is reached.

“They will make the decision as to whether or not it’s good enough not Premier Tobin, not President Barbour, not the negotiators,” he said.

Talks will likely resume at the end of the month.

Andersen estimates it will take until the end of January to finish the draft.

Land claim talks became more intense after INCO paid $4.1 billion for the rights to the nickel discovery at Voisey’s Bay.

The LIA agreed to fast track negotiations with the two levels of government last fall. The team moved to St. John’s and negotiated full time. They reached agreement on more than a dozen subsections, including fisheries, harvesting and environmental protection.

The three parties originally agreed to a deadline of March 1997 for a draft agreement.

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