Inuit organization wants Labrador group to stop accessing Indigenous programs

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The country’s largest Inuit organization is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cut land claim talks and federal funding for a Labrador organization it accuses of making “fraudulent claims” to a historic indigenous heritage.

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The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents more than 65,000 Inuit in Canada, wants the federal government to exclude Nuntukavut Community Council from running federal programs and initiatives aimed at supporting the Inuit people. The group says the NCC, whose members say they have mixed Inuit and European heritage, is not a legitimate indigenous group.

The NCC, formerly known as the Labrador Métis Council, rebranded as Nunatukavut in 2010 – and stepped directly into the fight over indigenous identity by beginning to self-identify as Inuit. The Inuit and Métis are two distinct indigenous groups, and the NCC has stated that it has changed their names to better reflect the heritage of their members.

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The ITK opposes a land claim from the NCC, which has made a controversial claim of historical rights to a large part of southern Labrador, including areas occupied by another indigenous group, the Innu. There are potentially millions of dollars at stake in development fees for indigenous groups that could negotiate with mining firms and other companies that want to use Labrador’s natural resources.

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ITK says the NCC is claiming the area that archeological and historical evidence shows has never been permanently occupied by the Inuit. They state that Inuit Nunangut, an Inuktitut term that refers to the traditional Inuit homeland, never expanded south as the NCC claims.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, said he did not object to NCC members’ personal claims of Inuit heritage among their ancestors. But it is another for the NCC to argue that it can negotiate collective indigenous rights as a separate Inuit group, he said.

“It’s really hard for us to understand that there might be another Inuit land in this country that we didn’t know about,” he said in an interview.

“On an individual level, everyone has their own lineage. But we are talking about a group claiming to be an Inuit collective. …these conversations are happening all over the country, where more and more people are claiming Swadeshi.”

Todd Russell, a former Liberal MP who is now the chairman of the NCC, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the group said it could not send an immediate response.

Mr Obed said it was disappointing to see another group’s land claim apparently “fast-tracked” by Ottawa, after a decades-long battle for Inuit self-determination.

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He said, “We fought for decades to establish our land claim agreements and protect our culture and way of life. … For others to come in and suddenly claim the same status, it is difficult to accept , “They said.

One of the most prominent members of the NCC is Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones. It has vigorously defended the NCC’s right to land claim in southern Labrador, and has dismissed complaints of conflicts of interest by other indigenous groups.

The MP was named in an application filed in federal court by Inu Nation in 2019 challenging a memorandum of understanding between the federal government and the NCC on self-determination. That agreement led to legal challenges from both the Inu and Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region of northern Labrador, to formalize negotiations for indigenous rights for the group.

The controversy over Indigenous identity in Labrador prompted former Nunavut MP Mumilaq Kakkak on social media in April to state that Ms Jones is “not Inuk,” and that southern Labrador “is not Inuit territory.”

But Ms Jones, who has said her father was of Inuit descent, rejected the court’s challenge, insisting that NCC members do not need to explain their heritage to anyone.

“I’m proud to be an Inuit. I know who I am, and I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone else,” she said in June 2020. “We know what our origins are. If someone else doesn’t like it, it’s their problem.”

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