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QIA chooses land rights over park

Swap threatens two jobs and 400 square kilometres in Katannilik Park

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

GREG YOUNGER-LEWIS

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association is pressing ahead with a planned swap of land surrounding a valuable mineral deposit in a territorial park, in hopes of strengthening Inuit control over the area.

The exchange is expected to transfer about 400 square kilometres of Crown land from Katannilik Territorial Park near Kimmirut to the trusteeship of QIA. The federal government will receive near-equivalent stretches of Inuit-owned land on the south shore of Baffin Island.

The chosen land rings around a deposit of lapis lazuli, a semi-precious rock, already marked as Inuit-owned land. This land transfer affects about a quarter of the park, south of Mt. Joy.

Terry Audla, executive-director of QIA, said Kimmirut community leaders no longer oppose the change in land ownership, after a meeting at the QIA offices on May 26 in Iqaluit.

Kimmirut’s mayor and other members of QIA’s community lands and resources committee originally took a firm stand against the exchange, because they believed the move would hurt local tourism.

But at the recent meeting, they changed their minds and signed a map agreeing to trade the chosen lands.

Government of Nunavut parks officials are worried that, in a worst-case scenario, the change in land ownership will force the environment minister to reverse the park’s designation. That would mean abandoning improvements to emergency cabins and other park infrastructure. Two permanent jobs for beneficiaries, plus other seasonal work could disappear.

But QIA argues the park won’t be harmed, because their committee in Kimmirut only picked a “corner” of the proposed parkland, identified for exchange under article 8.3.11 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

“It’s a right under the land claim,” Audla said. “The issue here is how much control Inuit have over the land. If we have title… there’s no dispute.

“It’s not to exploit or extract anything. It’s to increase leverage for Inuit against any person who would want to see if there’s any economic potential in the area.”

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada seems prepared to negotiate the exchange, but are waiting for QIA to set up formal meetings with the government.

Paul Fraser, inter-governmental affairs manager for INAC’s Nunavut office, said the government is sorting out technical and legal questions around QIA’s request to exchange land, based on a letter received earlier this month.

Fraser said INAC is looking at the request from a “pragmatic” point of view, in terms of figuring out how much work it will take to complete the transfer.

Otherwise, he expects the process to run smoothly.

“The claim isn’t particularly complicated,” Fraser said. “The Inuit select lands they wish to exchange, and it’s done.

“We have no dispute with them.”

David Monteith, the GN’s director of parks and conservation areas, said the government also respects QIA’s right to exchange the land.

But he said the land exchange could make it difficult for the government to fulfill the park’s conservation plan, and could lead to job cuts. The park designation is supposed to help government protect local culture, the environment and heritage sites in the area, such as the Soper River.

Monteith said he’s repeatedly asked QIA to explain what they plan to do with the lands, so the two sides can explore other options, such as leasing the land and keeping the park boundaries in tact.

“There’s never been any discussions with us on the potential impacts,” Monteith said. “The way that it’s presented certainly has major ramifications for Katannilik Park.”

The proposed land exchange has already caused problems elsewhere, in negotiations with the federal government.

Until the land exchange is settled, QIA refuses to participate in talks that would possibly transfer training money to communities for their participation in the federal Heritage Rivers Program.

The federal government began talks last year on a Heritage Rivers Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the three regional Inuit organizations.

The Heritage Rivers IIBA is meant to outline any impacts or benefits such as employment that Inuit will receive from the program, as required by the 1993 land claim agreement.

Jeannine Ritchot, lead federal negotiator for the IIBA, said talks will be on hold until QIA comes back to the table.

“We are a little bit disappointed in QIA’s decision,” Ritchot said. “But we’ve had assurances that they will want to come back once this issue is resolved.”

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