Makivik Corporation wants court to stop Labrador land claims
HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY — Nunavik’s Makivik Corporation has taken the minister of Indian Affairs to court to stop federal government ratification of the Labrador Inuit land claim agreement.
Negotiators for the Labrador Inuit Association and the federal and provincial governments initialled an agreement-in-principle in May.
The 4,800 members of the LIA ratified the agreement in a vote held in July.
“It’s quite an impossible situation and it’s come to a head now because it’s our assessment of the agreement that it clearly prejudices Nunavik Inuit’s rights,” said Sam Silverstone, a lawyer for the Makivik Corporation.
Makivik filed the suit in federal court on behalf of its 9,000 beneficiaries two weeks ago.
Silverstone said Makivik is looking for an agreement that contains rights similar to what the LIA has.
A negotiator for the LIA says Nunavik Inuit can’t expect to have rights in Labrador that they’re not prepared to grant to Labrador Inuit in Quebec.
“In an overlapping claim you have two groups with rights to particular areas and you agree to share those areas,” said Ches Andersen.
“But I’m not hearing anything about sharing,” he added. Negotiations between Makivik and the Labrador Inuit Association on an overlapping agreement have reached an impasse since the LIA initialled its agreement-in-principle.
In its suit, Makivik says an overlap agreement is no longer an appropriate way of addressing the rights of Nunavik Inuit in Labrador.
“In order for overlap negotiations to be successful, the playing field has to be level and right now it isn’t,” Silverstone said.
“If we’re all negotiating rights to the same territory it makes sense for all the parties be at the same table rather than being at separate tables negotiating separate subject matters,” he said.
Andersen says that’s ridiculous. “Silverstone says a level playing field for him is one which puts Makivik on an equal basis in a negotiation in Labrador, but he has not said we will be on an equal basis in Quebec and that’s part of the problem,” Andersen said.
The federal government accepted Makivik’s claim to northern Labrador, from Port Burwell to Voisey’s Bay, in 1993. About 100 Labrador Inuit live in northern Quebec and are beneficiaries of the James Bay Agreement.
Many of them return home to northern Labrador to hunt and fish. This activity is the basis of Makivik’s claim to traditional use and occupancy of the area.
Andersen says the Makivik claim shouldn’t have been accepted at all, because the federal government had already accepted a comprehensive claim for the area from the Labrador Inuit Association.
But negotiations haven’t gone anywhere because the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has refused to negotiate with non-resident aboriginal groups, including the Makivik Corporation.
“When Makivik negotiates, it negotiates only with the federal government, but Labrador Inuit negotiate with both the federal and provincial government,” Silverstone said.
Andersen says it may be time for the provincial government to reconsider its stand, but he believes Quebec would also have to be at the table.
In order to establish Labrador’s rights in Quebec, all the parties to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement would have to agree to reopen it.
“If you put all those people around the same table and say yes, this is going to work, I don’t see how that’s possible,” he said. “The way an overlapping claim is resolved is to negotiate with the parties most affected and that’s what we’ve been trying to do with Makivik,” Andersen said.
“We’re disappointed because we had anticipated trying to negotiate an agreement with them but they’ve chosen to go to court,” he said.
Neither the federal government nor the Newfoundland and Labrador governments have commented on the suit.