Inuit leader chides Ottawa for failure to implement land claim agreements
"Clearly a shift in policy is needed, and this begins with the prime minister of Canada"
Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said Feb. 28 that the federal government continues to ignore the Crown’s obligation to implement modern land claim agreements according to the spirit and intent with which they were negotiated.
“Stony-faced intransigence is not how any successful long-term partnership operates,” Audla said.
Audla made the remarks at a gathering of the Land Claims Agreement Coalition in Gatineau this week, before an audience that included Shawn Atleo, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees.
The coalition, formed in 2003, comprises aboriginal peoples who have signed modern, comprehensive land claim agreements and treaties since 1973.
The emergence of the coalition suggests that Inuit are not alone in their disappointment over “the lack of respect and attention by the Crown to honour the spirit and intent of land claims agreements,” Audla said.
If there isn’t “concrete improvement in the relationship, engagement and partnership with the Métis, First Nations and Inuit of “our great, resource rich, and historic lands, then ‘just watch us,’” Audla warned.
Inflexibility shown by the Crown has resulted, “inevitably,” in court cases, said Audla, citing Nunavut Tunngavik’s 2006 lawsuit against the federal government, which followed a breakdown in talks aimed at a new implementation contract for the Nunavut land claims agreement.
“Clearly a shift in policy is needed, and this begins with the Prime Minister of Canada,” he said.
Audla said Prime Minister Stephen Harper demonstrated “a personal interest in Canada’s Arctic,” visiting numerous communities.
“When he visits our communities he is received with honour and respect, as it should be,” Audla said. “So it is deeply confusing and troubling to Inuit that there is so little regard by the Crown to meet the core objectives of our modern treaties.”
Audla said ITK will continue to be a strong advocate for the coalition and its objectives.
And he said that his role as ITK president is to serve as “an advocate for change” on behalf of the Inuit regions.
“I’m stressing this point because there is a tendency for some non-aboriginal political leaders — usually the ones most resistant to change in the aboriginal policy world — to suggest that there are major, unworkable divisions on the aboriginal side,” he said. “This is simply not true!”
The real problem is a lack of political will, Audla said.
“Successful relationships are ones that are respected… tended to and acted upon, and there must be the will to do so. That is true for the old, historic treaties, and it is true for the modern treaties,” Audla said.
The status quo isn’t working for aboriginal peoples and leadership is needed, he said.
“This government talks about rights in Canada and around the world all the time. Some very important rights — women’s rights, children rights, and victims’ rights, all important. But I have rarely heard this government talk about aboriginal rights,” he said.