Our Rights Recognition

On July 12, 2018 the NunatuKavut Governing Council and Staff, along with hundreds of NunatuKavut members and supporters, welcomed Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to announce the start of talks with Canada on the Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination (RIRSD). This is a new and evolving process for the federal government and NCC.

On September 5, 2019, NCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Canada, which outlines the general principles of discussions and sets the stage for next steps in the RIRSD process. This provides an opportunity to advance such matters as self-governance on our lands, waters, resources and programs and services. It involves on-going engagement and consultation with NunatuKavut Inuit.


Updated November 15, 2019

Q. 1  What does the start of discussions with the Government of Canada on the recognition of our Indigenous rights and self-determination mean for the Inuit of NunatuKavut?

A. 1  These talks will involve extensive discussions with the federal government so that NunatuKavut Inuit can once again have certain decision-making power over our lands and resources, including over development projects in our territory. It will mean a greater ability to deliver programs, like health and education, that are aligned with our values and way of life. And it means that we can give expression to the way we want to govern in our homelands, something for which we have been fighting for many years.

Q. 2  Is the RIRSD process the same as a Land Claim process?

A. 2  The federal government is moving away from a land claim process with Indigenous communities towards exploring new ways of working together that advances the recognition of Indigenous rights and self-determination. It is part of a “Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework” that was announced by the Government of Canada back in February 2018.

While these talks are in response to the NunatuKavut Land Claim we first filed nearly three decades ago, our current engagement is part of this new federal approach toward a modern arrangement that is based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. It could include a series of agreements on various matters over a period of negotiations. This means we will be looking to address our Section 35 rights. This includes the rights to harvest marine species, terrestrial species and other species of importance to NunatuKavut Inuit. NCC will be addressing the title-based rights of our people in this process as well.

Q. 3  What is the process? What are the next steps?

A. 3   The process for this Indigenous rights and self-determination table is evolving. Now that NunatuKavut has been established as a collective that holds Indigenous rights, discussions will proceed to formalize those rights. This milestone has been reached after decades of exhaustive and extensive research by multiple experts from historians to genealogists to anthropologists, confirming our longstanding and unbroken presence in Labrador that goes back hundreds of years prior to European contact.

The signed MOU between the NCC and the Government of Canada will guide this process and we will now move forward with developing our joint mandate to negotiate on matters of interest and priority to NunatuKavut Inuit. This will involve ongoing engagement and consultation with our people and communities so that our collective priorities are reflected. This process is important to ensuring meaningful and tangible benefits to the people of NunatuKavut. Once the joint mandate(s) is finalized, the parties will begin negotiations on substantive agreements.

Q 4 Why does NCC’s traditional territory map (below) show an area that encompass a fair amount of Labrador?

A. 4 NCC first produced a map, similar to the version below, in 1995 and it has been in circulation since that time. The map reflects a broad representation of past and continuing traditional use based upon generations of Inuit oral history and extensive research. It shows NunatuKavut Inuit travel routes, as well as hunting, trapping and harvesting areas, over hundreds and hundreds of years. It also depicts a marine area in which our people travelled, fished, sealed and engaged in traditional activities. This type of map looks very similar to traditional territory maps of other Indigenous peoples, both in Labrador and throughout Canada.

It is well documented that Indigenous peoples have historically occupied and had a close relationship with the lands and waters of what is now known as Labrador, unrestrained by modern political and geographic boundaries. There were areas of exclusive and shared use among Indigenous groups, which is common throughout Canada.

The traditional use areas of all Indigenous peoples must be respected in all land claim and RIRSD processes. NCC is willing and welcomes the opportunity to engage, when and where appropriate, with the Nunatsiavut Government, the Innu Nation and possibly other Indigenous groups as NCC addresses issues that may arise during the negotiation of a modern agreement(s) with Canada.

Q. 5  This news has been a long time coming for the people of NunatuKavut. Why now?

A. 5  Yes, the recognition and respect of our rights is something that NCC has been working on for nearly three decades since our Land Claim was first submitted to the federal government. We have fought on so many fronts: on the ground, on the water, in the public arena, in bilateral and multilateral meetings and in the courts. As a people, we stood united in our pursuit for justice and have been persistent and resilient.

Back in the fall of 2016, we were invited to sit at a table with Canada to engage in a rigorous reconciliation engagement process to advance the acceptance of the NunatuKavut Land Claim. This process concluded in mid-2017 with the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs recognizing that NCC represents a rights-bearing people. In July 2018, NCC and Canada announced the beginning of the RIRSD table and the MOU is the first agreement to flow out of the process.

Q. 6  Does the MOU define or limit our rights in any way?

A. 6  No. The MOU is a process agreement that sets out how the parties will work together to develop a joint mandate for negotiations, which includes identifying the nature of NCC’s rights and potential beneficiaries. It does not define or limit those rights.

Q. 7  As a member, will I see any tangible benefit from this MOU?

A. 7 Building on work we have already begun, NCC will be seeking access to some Indigenous programs and initiatives as a priority. These are referred to in the MOU as “community confidence-building measures.” These measures will be focussed on meeting the immediate and long outstanding needs of NunatuKavut Inuit and serve to breathe confidence into the RIRSD process.

Q. 8  Will this mean that NunatuKavut Inuit will have access to health programs right away?

A. 8  Exploratory talks on access to health and other important federal Indigenous programs for NunatuKavut Inuit have been ongoing for some years. Through these RIRSD talks, we will be entering into more focussed discussions about accessing these programs.We know this is very important for our people.

Q. 9  Does this mean that NunatuKavut members can now hunt and fish without any limitation or restrictions?

A. 9  It should be noted that, as Indigenous peoples, we have always had certain limitations on our hunting and fishing. For example, we practiced conservation measures in deciding when and how to harvest. We shared resources to ensure we would always have our traditional foods to sustain us. While NunatuKavut members have harvesting rights, time will be required to clarify the nature and scope of those rights. With the start of talks, work will continue to ensure our rights to hunt and fish are respected. We have a lot of hard work ahead and our harvesting rights will be central to our discussions.

Q. 10  When do you expect to conclude this process and what will it look like?

A. 10 The roll-out of any final agreement(s) will depend largely on many factors, including federal and provincial interests and those of NCC, along with other Indigenous nations.  It will very likely be on-going, continually renewed arrangements that will not involve any sort of “surrender” or “giving-up” of rights. This will be an evolving relationship of rights recognition – on NunatuKavut, Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador’s part. We want to ensure that it fulfills our vision of being self-governing and providing and caring for one another, our families and our communities while nurturing our relationship with our lands, ice and waters.

In the meantime, we are seeking access agreements to some federal Indigenous programs that meet the immediate and long outstanding needs of NunatuKavut Inuit and to breathe confidence into these talks.

Q. 11  Does NunatuKavut’s land rights overlap with any other Indigenous groups?

A. 11  Many years ago, NCC was asked to define its central and broader land and water claim areas. As with almost all other land claim groups, there are overlaps with other Indigenous peoples. Accordingly, NCC, when appropriate, will engage with the Nunatsiavut Government, the Innu Nation and possibly other Indigenous groups as we start to discuss overlap issues.

We believe overlap discussions with both the Innu Nation and Nunatsiavut Government will provide opportunities to build stronger relationships with one another. Over the past number of years, we have been working in close cooperation with both Indigenous governments in Labrador on issues of common interest from training and economic development to caribou management. All three Indigenous groups in Labrador need to work together if we are to ensure more positive outcomes for all our peoples.

Q. 12 What part does the Province play in this?

A. 12 The negotiation of Indigenous rights and self-determination is primarily a federal government responsibility. Provincial governments will have a role because of their jurisdiction with respect to Crown lands, natural resources and private property, which according to the Canadian Constitution, lie within provincial jurisdiction. The MOU states that the parties will encourage the Province to join the RIRSD process as an active participant when and where it is appropriate. We are confident that the provincial government, consistent with statements from the Premier and other Provincial Crown representatives, will join rights recognition talks when required.

Q. 13 NCC was formerly the Labrador Metis Association and then the Labrador Metis Nation. Why are you now called NunatuKavut Community Council representing Inuit?

A. 13 We have always been Inuit and there is an unbroken line of continuity as we continue to live upon the lands of our ancestors in NunatuKavut. Our oral histories and knowledge reflect our Inuit culture. Our commitment to our communities and families upon our ancestral lands keep us connected and grounded in who we are. Robust genealogy research affirmed and provided additional information on the many kinship ties among Inuit across NunatuKavut. Like all other Indigenous peoples, however, our people have not been immune to colonization. Over the years, we have been called many different names by outsiders as they came upon our lands, observed us and made judgments about us, without getting to know us. Our grandparents’ generation used to refer to us as “Eskimo.” Inuttitut is the language of our ancestors. Yet, due to colonizing forces, our ancestral language is no longer spoken fluently in NunatuKavut. Inuttitut words and phrases, however, are still commonly used by people in our communities.

The term “Metis” was chosen for the organization in the late 1970’s, early 1980s at a time when Indigenous representativity was constantly in flux for many of the Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada. The term Metis did not solely apply to NunatuKavut Inuit. At its inception, it also included others who are now represented by other Indigenous groups. Our initial Land Claim, accepted for further research in 1993, was filed as an Inuit-based claim and our wins in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal have always been based on our Inuit history, heritage, identity and way of being. This is a matter of fact and one can easily check those records. We are the Inuit of NunatuKavut.

Q. 14 If NCC represents Inuit, why are your members not part of Nunatsiavut?

A. 14 Since the Inuit-British Treaty of 1765 and the unsuccessful efforts of the British Government to displace Inuit from southern Labrador, there has been an intentional separation of southern and northern Labrador Inuit by colonizers (Britain, historically, and Canada more recently). We are very pleased that Canada is re-visiting their inherited Treaty commitments to NunatuKavut Inuit made over 254 years ago in an effort to help us rebuild our nation-to-nation relationship with Canada. We also welcome the opportunity to continue building a renewed relationship with our relatives, the Nunatsiavut Inuit, and all Inuit in Canada.

Q. 15 When these agreements are negotiated, will the people of NunatuKavut have to pay taxes?

A. 15 It is important to clarify that only First Nation Status Indians receive certain tax exemptions. Those exemptions usually apply when they live and/or work on reserves or when certain goods are purchased. All other Indigenous peoples (Inuit, Metis and non-Status First Nations) pay taxes like all other Canadians.

Q. 16 How will municipalities in NunatuKavut be impacted?

A. 16 NunatuKavut has very positive relationships with municipal governments throughout Labrador and particularly with its communities. NCC will continue to build on this positive relationship and engage municipal governments in this process as appropriate.

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