December 14, 2007

New government pact one step closer

“We are consecrating the fact that our destiny is joined.”


QUEBEC CITY – Nunavik moved a step closer to a new regional public government on Dec. 5, when Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corp., signed an agreement-in-principle with Quebec's native affairs minister, Benoit Pelletier, and Chuck Strahl, the federal minister of Indian affairs, in the Salon Rouge of Quebec's National Assembly.

The AIP kick-starts the serious planning for the amalgamation of the Kativik regional government, school board and health board into a new body called the Nunavimmiut Aquvvinga.

This new body will be headed by an assembly, the Uqarmarvik, made up of 21 members, seven more than the Kativik Regional Government now has, but several fewer than the combined boards of the three current organizations.

Johnny Adams far left, former chairperson of the Kativik Regional Government, sits with his wife ­Levina, his nine-month-old son Anthony, and Makivik Corp.’s corporate secretary, George Berthe, at the Dec. 5 signing of the agreement-in-principle for a new form of government for Nunavik. Anthony was the youngest Inuk to attend the ceremony.

Kuujjuaq will elect two members to the Uqarmarvik and the other communities, including the Naskapi community of Kawachikamach will elect one member each.

All voters in the region will elect a five-member executive.

The final agreement on the new Nunavik government is likely to be completed within two years.

Nunavimmiut will then be asked to ratify the deal. If approved, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement must be amended.

Then, the amalgamation of the current organizations will move ahead during a transition period. Elections for the new assembly will follow and, finally, in a second phase, there will be another round of more negotiations on the powers the new government may wield.

Neither Aatami nor Charest would predict a date for the creation of the new government, but the process will likely take at least four years.

Speaking in Inuttitut for the benefit of Inuit in the audience and those listening to the ceremony live on Taqramiut Nipingat Inc.'s radio network, Aatami said the signing of the AIP was cause for celebration, as the first step towards self-government after many years of debate.

Aatami recounted in English how in 1972 Inuit first travelled by snowmobile from Ivujivik to Quebec City to seek self-government for the region.

"It's taken us this long to get here," Aatami said.

Aatami said the AIP signing was an "important milestone" in the region's relations with Quebec and Ottawa.

However, trilingual banners hanging on either side of the Salon Rouge downplayed the signing's significance.

In English, these proclaimed the AIP was a deal "concerning the amalgamation of certain public institutions" rather than a move to self-government.

The signing ceremony mainly provided Charest an opportunity to speak about the significance of Nunavik to Quebec.

Charest said it was a "gift of history and destiny" that Nunavik Inuit chose to align themselves with Quebec in 1970s, calling Nunavik's 14 villages the "crown on the top of Quebec" and Nunavimmiut "guardian angels over our territory."

Speaking in English, Charest told Inuit "in this agreement we are consecrating the fact that our destiny is joined, that we will live together forever, that you are the guardian angels of the North."

This theme was also repeated at the Nov. 30 inauguration of Pingualuit park where Charest told journalists that the "Inuit of Quebec are in some way the guardian angels of our territory, particularly in the context of climate change, sovereignty and the occupation of the Quebec territory."

In French, Charest also said the new government in Nunavik will contribute to the increased "responsabilisation" or "accountability" of Inuit.

There was no interpretation provided for his French-language speeches and later comments.

At a news conference after the signing, Charest emphasized to journalists that the new Nunavik government will be a "local" government, which will exercise the same powers over education, health, municipal affairs, transportation, the environment, manpower programs and public security as the Kativik Regional Government, school board, health department do today.

The new government will not be "a new level of government," Charest said.

AIP negotiators who met with journalists before the signing said the future Nunavik government will have several advantages over the current regime: it will save money for Quebec by trimming the administrative costs, create closer collaboration between educational, health and municipal officials and enable Nunavimmiut to deal more effectively with social problems.

Although the lack of Nunavik representation in Quebec's National Assembly is not specifically mentioned in the AIP, Charest pledged his support for the creation of a "northern riding" in Quebec's National Assembly, which would "consecrate the link between Inuit people and all of Quebec."

This riding would be a "northern riding," carved out of the Ungava riding which sprawls 1,500 kilometres from Nunavik to Chibougamou.

What's less certain is whether the new Nunavik government will see a direct chunk of tax revenues from resource development in the region, which could help support its activities.

Taxation will be brought up during the second phase of negotiations to determine the future Nunavik government's additional powers.

Pressed on the issue, Charest said Makivik can expect to strike more of the kinds of agreements with mining companies, similar to the Raglan Agreement which gives Nunavik 4.5 per cent of the profits of the nickel mine between Kangiqsujuaq and Salluit.

But these deals would not bring money to the future Nunavik government.

Chief Nunavik negotiator Minnie Grey suggested the Nunavimmiut Aquvvinga might someday find itself in negotiations with Makivik over the sharing of resource revenues.