Politicians bob and weave at Nunavik Accord signing
Each of the three parties to the historic Nunavik Accord used the signing ceremony to deliver their own political message.
MONTREAL — When the Nunavik Political Accord was signed last Friday in Montreal, the ceremony featured all the pomp of a major business coup or the launching of a new line of cars.Everyone, Inuit included, wore cosmopolitan city clothes and there was no lighting of a qulliq, no drum-dancing, no throat-singing, none of the usual traditional Inuit trappings used so frequently at similar events in Nunavut — just a few silapaqs strung along the walls to brighten up the standard southern hotel decor.
And while the signatories didn’t want to speculate on what kind of government Nunavik would eventually have after the accord is implemented, it was clear that Nunavik’s new government won’t look like Nunavut’s either.
Instead, Nunavik will likely end up with a more streamlined and cost-efficient version of itself.
Getting more bang for their buck was the federal government’s chief message. At the signing ceremony, federal Indian Affairs Minister Bob Nault spoke about building an “economy for the future” and setting up structures that would enable northerners to get off welfare and be more “successful.”
“The whole objective is to create an economy,” Nault said. “Let’s get back to the practical reason we’re here, to create an economy.”
For Quebec’s native affairs minister, Guy Chevrette, the signing appeared to recognize what he regards as a cozy marriage between Inuit and the Parti Québécois.
Chevrette called the accord as an “important step” and a “historic move,” signifying the harmonious relationship between Inuit and Quebec.
Although clearly delighted with the deal before him, Chevrette didn’t want to make any predictions about what form of government Nunavik might or might not get.
His big news was the announcement of the “possibility” that Nunavik might finally get its own representative in Quebec’s legislature, the national assembly or assemblé nationale.
The absence at the signing ceremony of Michel Létourneau, the PQ MNA for Ungava who represents Nunavik, made Chevrette’s promise seem more plausible.
Sovereignty was put on the back-burner, although Chevrette didn’t deny that his government’s signing of the Nunavik Political Accord looks like another one of those “winning conditions” that Quebec needs to have in order to promote its vision of sovereignty, a sure sign of the PQ’s good relations with Quebec’s resident aboriginal population.
Sovereignty issue avoided
Makivik President Pita Aatami also skirted around Quebec’s possible future sovereignty.
“When the day comes and we have to deal with it, we will deal with it,” Aatami said.
Aatami was also reluctant to predict what kind of of governance Nunavik could look forward to, although it was clear that any idea of a Nunavut-style territory has been shelved, at least for the time being.
Aatami said that whatever form of government Nunavik ends up with would be within Quebec, and won’t ressemble the territorial framework of Nunavut.
“We have similar aspirations, though we know that being in a provincial jurisdiction means the governing structures will be different,” Aatami said.
And even though there was some mention of the “devolution” of responsibilities to Nunavik, Aatami reminded those present that Nunavik’s dependency on Quebec government money won’t end any day soon.
Aatami emphasized — speaking a few well-chosen sentences in French — that Nunavimmiut pay taxes just like other Canadian citizens. He said that Nunavimmiut spend 90 per cent of their money on goods manufactured in the South, and that the Makivik Corporation’s business interests have created 1500 jobs.
To his credit, Aatami also tried to evoke the reality of the North for the mixed audience of 150 in Montreal. He talked about the consequences of Nunavik’s “head-on collision” with a foreign culture that derailed the Inuit tradition of governance in the region.
He applauded his fellow Inuit back home for their adaptability to new ways of living and governing themselves.
“As one of the original inhabitants of this great country, we are on our way to helping together and prospering together,” Aatami said. “This is a time that we feel a part of Canada and Quebec by signing a document to create a Nunavik government in a land where we have lived for a very long time.”
Commission to be decreed later
The expected decree forming the Nunavik Commission was not signed in Montreal, due to a delay in its presentation to Quebec’s cabinet.
Over the coming months, this commission, whose members should be formally announced this week, will develop a timetable, plan of action and recommendations for the structure and operations of a new public government in Nunavik.