NTI joins land claim coalition

Inuit, First Nations frustrated by pace of implementation


Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is building a united front with aboriginal land claim groups across Canada to press Ottawa for a new way of implementing comprehensive land claim deals.

NTI and five other aboriginal organizations who have signed, or are about to sign modern land claim agreements issued the call last Friday, at the end of a two-day conference in Ottawa.

If the coalition’s lobbying efforts are successful, they could force the first major change in federal land claim policy since 1986, when Brian Mulroney’s Tory government created the current one in response to the findings of a task force headed by consultant Murray Coolican.

Last week’s conference, which brought together more than 200 delegates, many of them aboriginal, from across Canada, looked at one major issue: the implementation of comprehensive land claim agreements.

And whether they are Inuit or First Nations, many conference participants said they’re frustrated by the federal government’s foot-dragging and hair-splitting attitude to the implementation of promises made to aborginal people in land claim deals.

“For all the stakeholders, whether it be First Nations or Inuit, there seems to be a lot of implementation problems from the government side. There seems to be slow-moving implementation from the government side,” said Joanasie Akumalik, NTI’s new director of implementation, and a co-chair of the conference.

The gathering was organized by a diverse group of aboriginal organizations: Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the NWT Aborginal Summit, the Grand Council of the Crees, the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Nisga’a Lisims Government.

Akumalik said many conference participants invoked the spirit of the early 1980s, when Canada’s aboriginal peoples joined forces to battle for the recognition of aboriginal rights in Pierre Trudeau’s new constitution.

“Everybody kept referring back to 1980-82 when Section 35 was being dealt with. A lot of comments were made from the First Nations and the Inuit that those organizations stuck together and made some changes as a result of getting together and fighting for their rights… That was the general consensus, that there be a coalition of some sort,” Akumalik.

Because of Section 35, land claim agreements are, effectively, part of the Constitution.

So the new aboriginal coalition that emerged from last week’s gathering plans to remind Ottawa that land claim and self-government agreements are “constitutional in nature” when they press for better implementation of their agreements.

They say a new federal land claims implementation policy must include the following:

* Recognition that the “Crown in right of Canada” and not DIAND, is party to aboriginal land claims agreements;
* Ottawa must commit to the “broad objectives” of land claim and self-government agreements with a “new relationship,” rather than narrow “technical compliance”- this must include adequate funding to achieve those objectives;
* Implementation must be handled by federal officials who represent the entire government;
* There must be an independent body, separate from DIAND, to audit and review the implementation of land claim agreements. This could be the Auditor General, or some other office that reports directly to Parliament.

Several organizations, such as NTI, are in the process of re-negotiating the 10-year “implementation contracts” attached to those agreements. Implementation contracts are legal agreements that set out who’s responsible for doing what, and who’s responsible for paying the bills in carrying out land claim agreements.

The coalition’s leaders, made up of people like NTI president Cathy Towtongie, William Andersen III of the Labrador Inuit Association, Violet Pachanos of the James Bay Cree, Edwin Erutse of the Sahtu Dene, Ed Schultz of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and Edmond Wright of the Nisga’a Nation, met behind closed doors last Friday afternoon to start plotting their next moves.

They’ll soon set up a working group of officials to work out more detailed positions on implementation issues.

“We’ll be getting some direction from the leaders. I ‘m expecting that a working group will be set up soon,” Akumalik said.

Efforts to negotiate a new implementation contract for the Nunavut land claims agreement have so far failed to produce an agreement.

Negotiations have been held up by at least two unresolved issues: financing for Nunavut’s Inuit-government shared management boards, and a demand by NTI and the Nunavut government for millions of training dollars to implement the Inuit employment provisions in Article 23.

Akumalik wouldn’t comment on where those difficult talks stand.

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