Poor start on unity issue


There are those who say that the current national debate over the possible separation of Quebec has no relevance for the ordinary people of the Northwest Territories.

They say we are too preoccupied with putting food on our tables and roofs over our heads to worry about the state of the nation and the consitutional diseases to which excessive concern about the state of the nation usually leads.

Those who say this are wrong. The separation of Quebec would have an immediate and harmful impact on the fortunes of many NWT residents, especially those who live in Nunavut.

Nunavut and the province of Quebec share a long border and a long history of living side by side. Many Nunavut residents enjoy a variety of close ties with Quebec, especially northern Quebec. As we all know, these include numerous family and cultural ties. Many Nunavut residents also do business in Quebec and many of us still receive some government services from Quebec, especially health care and education.

At the same time, Nunavut and Nunavik leaders have already openly discussed the possibility of some kind of union between Nunavut and Nunavik if Quebec decides to separate from Canada.

If the GNWT and the NWT legislative assembly are genuinely serious about participating in the national unity debate and acknowledging the concerns of the NWT’s aboriginal people, it’s essential that they recognize this.

Unfortunately, the resolution that they passed Dec. 2 contains little evidence that they have done so.

Here are some key issues that they should have considered before drafting and voting on that resolution.

* As long they continue to represent Nunavut residents, the government of the Northwest Territories must develop a clear position on the partition of Quebec and the status of Quebec’s borders.

If the government of the Northwest Territories does not recognize this in its unity deliberations, they will have failed to adequately represent Nunavut residents.

* The Nunavut territorial government’s constitutional status must eventually be clarified.

Throughout the negotiation of the Nunavut Accord and the subsequent passage and proclamation of the Nunavut Act, the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut took the position that the Nunavut territory is protected by aboriginal and treaty rights provisions in the Charter of Rights.

Ottawa, on the other hand did not agree that the Nunavut territory enjoys such protection.

Again, if they are to adequately represent Nunavut residents until April 19 1999, GNWT officials must take a postion on this issue.

* As Premier Don Morin and many others have pointed out, the Calgary Declaration does not give adequate recognition to Canada’s aboriginal people.

But the NWT legislative assembly’s unity resolution doesn’t either.

Simply mentioning aboriginal people isn’t enough – and that’s about all the legislative assembly did. Their resolution also appears to impose limits on the inherent right to self-government that most aboriginal organizations are likely to find unnacceptable.

Taske a close look at the what the assembly’s resolution says:

“The aboriginal peoples of Canada, being the first peoples to inhabit and govern this land, have the inherent right to self-government to safeguard and develop their lands and resources, languages, cultures and traditions and to ensure the integrity of their societies.”
Yes, it sounds impressive. But the words used to describe what the inherent right to self-government would be used for contain subtle – and disingenuous – limitations on that right.

It means, effectively, that aboriginal governments may only exercise some powers in some narrowly proscribed areas, such as language, culture, and wildlife management.

This is not an abstract issue of interest only to constitutional lawyers and other legal hair-splitters.

The Inuit of Nunavut, along with status and treaty Indians across Canada, have begun to talk to Ottawa about the devolution of non-insured health benefits to regional aboriginal organizations.

The Kivalliq Inuit Association, for example, has made it abundantly clear that they’re fed up with how the GNWT and the Keewatin Regional Health Board is providing health care to Kivalliq region Inuit.

It’s also no secret that they would like Ottawa to give them control of their region’s share of NIHB money so that they can wrest control of regional health care away from the GNWT and its puppet health board.

Yet nowhere in the GNWT’s declaration is there an acknowledgement that the inherent right to self-government ought to include the right to exercise powers over health, social services and education. That’s something that Ottawa and all 10 provincial governments were prepared to do in the 1992 Charlottetown Accord.

If the GNWT has any interest at all in asserting the rights of the territory’s aboriginal people, they must at least be willing to go that far. JB

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