Naskapi protest Nunavik government process
Naskapi First Nation claims nearly one third of Inuit land
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — The Naskapi First Nation came to plead its case last week at a symposium on Nunavik self-government and threaten court action if no one responds to the band’s long-standing grievances.
“We deserve the same recognition as the Inuit,” John Mameamskum, the band’s director general, told the symposium’s audience of 150. “We didn’t come here to pick a fight, but to make a point.”
Mameamskum comes from the Naskapi community of Kawawachikamach, about 250 kilometres south of Kuujjuaq.
At the symposium, he was accompanied by an impressive group of Naskapis, comprised of the Kawawachikamach band chief, deputy chief, councilors, administrators and elders, who sat around the speaker’s podium during the 20 minutes allotted to a Naskapi presentation.
This was a move that clearly surprised Makivik Corporation and Dialog, the Quebec talk-group on aboriginal issues, which had organized the two-day symposium called “Nunavik: A new way of governing.”
But Mameamskum told Nunatsiaq News he’d been waiting years for those 20 minutes. He said the 850 Naskapi of Kawawachikamach have been asking for the same rights and recognition Inuit have received from the federal and provincial governments — but they have been ignored by everyone for years.
Naskapis use the word “betrayal” in talking about how Canada, Quebec and Inuit have treated them as “a second-class First Nation as compared to the Inuit.”
Maps later furnished by the Naskapis show lands considered by Naskapis as their traditional lands account for nearly a third of the future Nunavik territory.
“The Inuit must relinquish any jurisdiction over any Naskapi lands,” Mameamskum told the symposium.
The Naskapis want “the jurisdiction of all Inuit-dominated bodies” to be terminated within their traditional lands.
“Why is the Naskapi territory sucked into the Inuit territory?” Mameamskum asked.
And he said the Naskapis are ready to go to court to protect their rights.
Mameamskum also said the Naskapis had to argue for time to speak at the symposium.
But Makivik’s president Pita Aatami told Mameamskum that he had never prevented him from participating.
“Nobody’s stopping you from speaking,” Aatami said. “We’ve supported you. We’ve done what we can.”
Aatami said he has tried to advance the Naskapi concerns, not undermine them, and that Makivik has lobbied governments on their behalf.
“I’m just surprised that you would try to bring this up today.”
During a break following Mameamskum’s presentation, a Makivik staffer criticized him for arriving at the symposium “with everything but a bow and an arrow.” Another suggested the Naskapis were confusing public and ethnic governments.
As the symposium progressed, Makivik stressed its future government would be a public government, to administer the region for all the territory’s citizens, and not an ethnic government, that is, solely for Inuit.
Aatami promised debate and openness would be part of the future public government.
But Mameamskum said any Naskapi voice would be lost within this government structure, even if the band did elect and send a representative to Nunavik’s proposed assembly.
To make their point, the Naskapis rented their own conference room in the same downtown Montreal hotel as the symposium’s venue. There, they presented a power-point presentation to several, including Inuit, who were attending the symposium.
“Naskapi concern is not the protection of its treaty rights: Quebec, Canada and the Inuit cannot affect those without Naskapi consent. It is the granting of new self-government rights and powers to the Inuit in Naskapi traditional lands that will preclude Naskapis from securing self-government rights and powers in Naskapi traditional lands,” says the presentation.
This presentation alleges a bitter history, starting in November 1975 with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, in which “Canada, Quebec and Inuit conspire to “steal” Naskapi rights and lands north of the 55th parallel of latitude.”
It says Inuit then insisted in 1978 that the Kativik Regional Government have jurisdiction over Naskapi traditional lands north of 55th parallel. The Naskapi seat on the KRG is “meaningless in practice” because it’s only one out of 14 at the KRG’s regional council.
The presentation also criticizes the April 2002 Sanarrutik Agreement, saying Quebec granted Makivik resource-related rights over Naskapi traditional lands and the Inuit accepted such rights “in full knowledge of injustice thereby visited on Naskapis.”
The Naskapis also challenges the very basis of the Nunavik’s agreement-in-principle on self-government.
“How can Canada and Quebec claim to be negotiating non-ethnic government on the basis of ethnic/Aboriginal commitments and policies?”
The presentation says the Naskapis appeared twice before the Nunavik Commission and submitted a 200-page brief, but in summarizing the “priorities and concerns” raised in the public hearings, the Naskapis say their report did not even list their positions among those priorities and concerns.
Mameamskum said the Naskapis understand the two-stage approach described in Nunavik’s AIP on self-government, which would first see an amalgamation of the region’s existing institutions, and then more negotiation for new governmental powers.
But what the Naskapis don’t like is the second stage.
One observer said the Naskapis’s statements during the symposium were tantamount to “declaring war” on Nunavik.
To get relations back on track, Mameamskum suggested an elders’ gathering between Inuit and Naskapis.
This, he said, would remind Nunavimmiut of those years, not so long ago, when the Naskapis and Inuit freely traded, hunted and even married each other — on their respective traditional lands.