Kuujjuaq July 17, 2008 –The official signing ceremonies and Royal Assent in the Parliament of Canada happened months ago. But in practical terms the Nunavik offshore land claim really came into effect late last week, when the first cheques arrived at the Makivvik headquarters and Inuit Land titles were formally registered.
The Nunavik Inuit offshore Claim may accurately be described as the silent land claim, although its impact will be felt for generations, and its terms are just as significant as the initial Northern Quebec Inuit land claim signed more than 30 years ago.
Negotiations to resolve the Nunavik Inuit Offshore Land Claim lasted more than 14 years which is an indication of the complexity of a land claim or modern treaty that covers the offshore areas, and includes more than 6000 islands in the east Hudson and Ungava Bay area of Northern Quebec and include overlapping claims and interests of four Governments, and four separate aboriginal organizations.
Fundamentally, the Nunavik Inuit Offshore Land Claim Agreement may be viewed as an extension or unfinished business in terms of the initial James Bay Northern Quebec Inuit Land Claim signed in 1975. That claim provided 90 million dollars in compensation and parcels of land with Inuit ownership. These same principles are included in the Offshore Claim, that encompass thousands of offshore Islands, many of them too small to be seen on maps, that were excluded from the 1975 claim.
“These Islands are essential to the overall traditional land use and occupancy by the Inuit of Nunavik, who live in 14 communities scattered along the Coast of Hudson and Ungava Bays” said Pita Aatami President of Makivvik, the Inuit Corporation responsible for negotiating and administering the claim on behalf of 10,000 Inuit of Northern Quebec.
“I have often used the analogy that these islands have been our grocery stores and shelters, and we will continue to look at them in that way” said Mr. Aatami, “but now we can also view them in the modern context of future economic development and job creation for our communities in terms of expanded fishery opportunities or mineral exploration”.
The offshore claim will provide close to 100 million dollars in payments over the next ten years. The monies will be divided between the Makivvik heritage trust, which invests money for future generations and the Nunavik Inuit Trust that invests funds for community development initiatives as well as direct payments to beneficiaries.
The total land mass of the six thousand or more islands, amounts to about 5300 square kilometres. The legal land title for eighty percent of that land mass is now registered in the name of Makivvik on behalf of the Inuit of Nunavik. The Federal Government retains ownership of the other 20 percent. Much of the federal lands encompass wildlife preserves. The Government also owns the sea bed, but Inuit are entitled to royalty sharing on future resource development on federal lands within the claim area. Inuit also have sub surface rights on the Inuit owned lands.
The islands will be managed by three joint management Boards that include a Wildlife Management Board; an Impact Review Board and a Planning Commission. These entities will balance the aboriginal Rights of the Nunavik Inuit, The Inuit and Government of Nunavut, the Government of Canada, and overlapping claims by the Cree of Quebec, and other Inuit interests in Labrador.
“Because there are many players, these were long and complex negotiations” said Mr. Aatami, “and the successful conclusion is due to the determination and hard work of our negotiating committee led by Makivvik Vice President, Johnny Peters who said “we always knew we owned the Islands, because our people have always used them. It’s good to have a clear picture of where everybody stands now so we can move forward with future developments.”
“This claim will bring direct financial benefits to our communities and beneficiaries beginning immediately” added Mr. Aatami. “Makivvik will begin an immediate consultation process with the communities to determine the most appropriate way of distributing the initial payments to Nunavik residents”.
There are several opinions on the table, including immediate relief form the increasingly high cost of fuel and other relief from high cost of living.
In the past 30 years, Makivvik has used the money from the initial Land Claim to invest heavily in community infrastructure and business enterprises that including ownership First Air and Air Inuit. A fuel distribution company, interests in arctic marine shipping company, operating the North Warning System of behalf of NORAD and more recently Nunavik Creations a northern clothing company and Arctic cruises, offering eco and adventure tours of the Hudson Bay and eastern Arctic.
“We are determined to use the terms of this claim, combined with the experience and investments gained over the past 30 years from the initial claim to make the Inuit of Nunavik stronger, politically, socially and economically” said Mr Aatami.
For more information:
Makivvik Head Office
St-Laurent, Qc H4M 2X6
514.745.8880 ext 215