Labrador Inuit vote Yes to agreement-in-principle

Low voter turn-out in key region outside claim area.


Nunatsiaq News

NAIN — Labrador Inuit have endorsed their land claims agreement in principle.

About 80 per cent of eligible voters said Yes to an agreement-in-principle that will establish a land claim settlement area and Inuit government in Labrador.

When the last numbers were called in late Monday night, staff at the Labrador Inuit Association office roared with relief.

Overall, 1784 voters said Yes, and 447 voters said No. Of the 3663 people eligible to vote, 1379 stayed at home on polling day.

However, the total voter turnout was 64 per cent, and only 46 per cent of members in Upper Lake Melville bothered to vote.

Nearly half of the LIA’s members live in the Upper Lake Melville communities of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Northwest River, outside of the LIA settlement area.

“I’m surprised a little bit in the sense we knew we were going to have some No votes out there, but I didn’t realise they were going to be that low in numbers,” said LIA President William Barbour.

“I’m so excited and happy. We were getting really positive feedback from the communities but you never know until it’s there,” said Isabella Payne, a member of the LIA land claims team for the last eight years.

The Inuit have said Yes to a settlement area of 73,000 square kilometers, including 16,000 square kilometers that they will own and govern.

A central Inuit government will take care of regional issues. A series of community governments will take the place of the current town councils.

As well the LIA will received $140 million from the federal government to implement the deal, and $115 million for capital projects.

The agreement-in-principle covers resource management, the creation of a national park in northern Labrador and cultural protection.

Eligible voters in every community produced a Yes vote on the agreement, ranging from a high of 95 per cent in Hopedale, to a low of 67 per cent in North West River.

In the last two weeks, the LIA mounted a special campaign of personal visits to woo voters in Upper Lake Melville. Some Inuit there questioned whether the benefits they’ll receive outside the settlement area will be as good as those for members living within it.

They’ll also questioned the criteria for membership in the LIA and the length of time that appeals take.

“There was a misunderstanding out there but we’ve worked hard in the last two weeks to clear that up,” said Barbour. “The clear yes vote from the membership overall gives us the clear mandate,” said Barbour.

Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin said the government of Newfoundland and Labrador will ratify the agreement-in-principle as soon as possible, and he called on the federal government to do the same.

He contrasted reaction to the land claims process in Labrador to the controversy generated by the Nis’ga deal in British Columbia. “Here in this province people have demonstrated support for settlement of land claims and self-government. I’m extremely pleased,” Tobin said.

The next step is for LIA members to select the 16,000 square kilometers of land that they will retain in Nunatsiavut.

Payne said that will take place this fall. She expects negotiations for a final agreement to take two years. The Labrador Inuit Association has spent more than $30 million and 20 years negotiating for a land claim agreement.

The LIA is the last Inuit group in Canada to reach an agreement.

Share This Story

(0) Comments