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Nunavik settles offshore agreement

VIP-studded gathering celebrates signing of deal giving territory ownership of marine resource “grocery store”


KUUJJUAQ – The first mini-blizzard of the year was blasting Kuujjuaq last Friday just as Quaqtaq singer Beatrice Deer sang “how when the cold wind blows its so nice to be with friends” to a VIP-studded gathering in the Katittavik hall, gathered there to sign the last outstanding Inuit land claim agreement in Canada.

”When historic agreements are signed, the weather doesn’t cooperate, but today we are cooperating,” Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corporation, joked at the Dec. 1 signing ceremony for the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement.

The deal covers offshore areas not dealt with in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Aatami was all smiles, because after 13 long years, the ownership of Nunavik’s “grocery store” of offshore marine resources and islands is finally be settled. “We didn’t own them, but in our hearts they were ours. Now they belong to us,” Aatami said.

Jim Prentice, the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, praised Makivik’s patience and good faith during the tedious negotiation process, calling the land claim body “a great, great Canadian success story.”

And he also praised the offshore deal for its settling of ownership rights and conflicts over use of land and resources.

The NICLA provides Nunavimmiut ownership over 80 per cent of all the offshore islands, with both surface and subsurface rights, in what’s called the “Nunavik Marine Region.”

The NICLA also offers Makivik about $39.8 million for implementation. Another $54.8 million goes to a Nunavik Inuit trust, which will shortly be making cash payouts to individual Nunavimmiut.

The NICLA creates co-management bodies, too, such as the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Management Board, with three Inuit members from Nunavik and four representatives appointed by governments, including Nunavut.

And the NICLA entrenches Nunavik aboriginal fishing rights in the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, and establishes the Torngat National Park Reserve in Labrador.

The Inuit of Nunavik signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Canada’s first comprehensive land claim agreement, in 1975. Later, three more Inuit land claim agreements were signed, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in 1984, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in 1993, and the Labrador Final Agreement in 2005.

This past October, Nunavimmiut voted overwhelmingly to ratify their offshore deal.

Getting to that point was far from easy. After years of wrangling, the overlap deal with Labrador Inuit Association’s negotiator Tony Andersen was settled over a beer, Aatami said, while he and former James Bay Cree Grand Chief Ted Moses drew lines on a napkin until they agreed on how to divide lands along the 55th parallel.

A few years ago, Nunavut, along with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., complained that Nunavik’s offshore deal included too large a stake in the northern fisheries.

But last Friday, the Government of Nunavut had forgotten all that, with Okalik stressing “the very long ties” between Inuit in Nunavut and Nunavik.

Many other federal, territorial and provincial officials watched as Prentice, Aatami, Okalik and their negotiators signed copy after copy of the gold-embossed bound copies of the lengthy NILCA text.

Notables included Maggie Emudluk, chair of the Kativik Regional Government; Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; Matthew Mukash, Grand Chief of the Cree; Paul Kaludjuak, president of NTI; and Thomasie Alikatuktuk, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Then it was time for gift-giving, which included nifty NILCA baseball caps.

Okalik gave Aatami a huge wrapped present to open. Inside was a massive carved narwhal with two tusks, a gift from Nunavut to Nunavik. “We look forward to the Inuit of Nunavik retaking control of their lives,” Okalik said.

Throughout Nunavik, communities joined in with their own celebrations, thanks to $5,000 contributions from Makivik.

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