Uncertainty plagues Labrador ratification vote

Labrador Inuit will got to the polls July 26 to ratify a land claim agreement-in-principle — not their final agreement.


Special to Nunatsiaq News

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY — Members of the Labrador Inuit Association will vote Monday on whether to accept an agreement in principle aimed at settling their long standing land claim.

The LIA’s chief negotiator, Toby Andersen, agrees that it’s unusual to have a vote at this early stage.

Back in 1996, delegates at the LIA’s annual meeting directed the organization to put the agreement in principle to the membership. “The level of detail in an AIP is close to a final agreement, so they said they needed a ratification vote,” Andersen said.

About 3200 LIA members aged 15 years and over are eligible to vote on July 26.

The agreement in principle gives Labrador Inuit land, self-government and cash.

The LIA would own and govern 6100 square miles, about six per cent of Labrador.

The organization would co-manage a larger settlement area, totalling 28,000 square miles, with the provincial government. The LIA would earn 3 per cent of the mining tax at Voisey’s Bay, if and when mining begins at the giant nickel deposit.

As well, the federal government will award the Labrador Inuit $140 million for extinguishing their aboriginal title, and pay another $115 million to implement a final agreement, when it is reached.

Reperesentatives from the LIA, the federal government and the Newfoundland provincial government initialled the agreement-in-principle May 10 in St. John’s.

Since then, the LIA has held open houses and meetings, answering questions, and talking to beneficiaries one-on-one.

Andersen is telling people that the deal is comparable to other Inuit land claim agreements, providing Inuit with land, self-government and economic benefits.

“This is as far as we could push the governments. Anyone can try, but they won’t get a better deal. We drove them to where they are,” Andersen said.

He believes a split that has developed between the majority of benficiaries, who live in northern Labrador, and the others who live outside of the settlement ares in the Upper Lake Melville region is closing.

“This is the only land claim agreement in Canada to deliver benefits outside the settlement area. These people have not been left out,” Andersen said, answering criticisms that Inuit who live in central Labrador will be second-class beneficiaries.

“The main difference would be specific things like education, health, social services and specific self-government programs that wouldn’t be available in central Labrador,” he added.

“If you live in Upper Lake Melville, you will have the same access to hunting and fishing as any other beneficiary would have,” he said.

The uncertainty about the agreement reaches outside of central Labrador.

“I just feel uneasy about it; there arer too many uncertainties,” said Wayne Broomfield, the mayor of Makkovik.

“Nothing is going to be finalized until after the vote, like the land selection,” he said.

“But they’re saying this is as good as it gets; it seems like a Catch 22,” Broomfield said. Broomfield says he may not vote.

In Nain, Richard Pamak worries the agreement-in-principle doesn’t include enough land or enough money.

He says Nain alone needs $16 million over the next five years to improve water and sewer services, build a breakwater, and develop building lots.

“Up to three days ago I was telling people to look at the document and make up their own minds,” he said.

“Now I’ve decided to vote Yes and I’m lobbying the membership to vote Yes because this is as good a deal as the LIA could do,” said Pamak, who was elected to the LIA’s board of directors four months ago.

He believes the vote could go either way, but Andersen is confident the membership will endorse the agreement-in-principle.

“I’d be surprised if it’s a No vote,” he said. A result of 50 per cent plus one vote will be enough to pass the AIP.

The results should be known late Monday night.

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