The Nunavut land claims agreement: dissecting the bloated cadaver

Near the end of 1999, I wrote an intemperate essay for Saturday Night magazine on the troubled launch of the Nunavut territory on April 1 of that year. (Sorry. Saturday Night, along with its website, vanished some years ago. There’s no URL to send you to.)

In January of 2000, the late Randy Ames wrote to me about that essay. Ames, as many people in Nunavut may know, worked at the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut as a researcher and later did similar work for the Nunavut Implementation Commission.

He reminded me that he was the only person to have been continuously involved in the research and negotiation of the Nunavut land claim agreement between 1980, when talks started in earnest, and 1989, when the land claim agreement-in-principle, which contained 90 per cent of the final agreement, was completed.

So when I saw his name on the outside of an envelope, I paid special attention to the letter — especially when he told me why he boycotted the April 1, 1999 celebrations in Iqaluit:

“…I was so disheartened and angry with what could have been achieved, rather than what was accomplished, that as my own little form of personal protest, I declined to attend.”

By any standard, the Nunavut that emerged that day was an understaffed, underfunded mess. Ames blamed this, mostly, on the Government of the Northwest Territories’ “arrogance and intransigence” as well as “federal parsimony and financial dithering.”

But first he explained how the notorious IPG’s — “Institutions of Public Government” — came to be born.

Ottawa waited until the 11th hour — near the end of 1991 — before committing to the creation of Nunavut. Until then, TFN negotiators acting on behalf of Inuit sought to hedge their position. They did this through the creation of what Ames calls a “de facto Nunavut through administrative control over lands and resources.” That’s how the Nunavut Planning Commission, the Nunavut Water Board and all those other strange bodies came to be created.

And what a bad idea that turned out to be. This is what Ames said nearly 10 years ago:

“As a result of this process, Nunavut has been lumbered with an administratively and technically complex, and expensive set of management boards — something that would have been entirely unnecessary had the federal government agreed to Nunavut early on in the process.”

I often thought privately during those year [sic] that, had the federal government agreed to Nunavut, the Inuit leadership would have been quite happy to settle for it, along with provisions that recognized hunting rights, and provided Inuit with some land and cash. If this had occurred, Nunavut could have been established under the better fiscal circumstances of the 1980s, and without the financial burden of the management boards.”

All this provides some valuable context for what I really wanted to talk about in this post: a series of fascinating essays published just last month in Policy Options.

It’s part of a series called “Dossier: Nunavut @ 10.” One provocative piece, by Iqaluit resident Mike Mifflin, includes an instructive analysis of co-management boards and how they serve to disempower the Government of Nunavut and its constituents.

Here’s a quote from Mifflin’s piece:

In fact, Nunavut’s regulatory system has proven wholly unworkable and is a roadblock to the development of Nunavut’s resources.

His most compelling observation exposes one rather obvious contradiction: that cash-rich Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. does next to nothing with its billion-dollar compensation fund to better the lives of Nunavut Inuit.

He also points out that NTI and the other Inuit associations are now set to scoop up many millions worth of mining royalties that ought to go to the territorial government for social programs, and points out the serious weaknesses in the Nunavut land claims agreement provisions for Inuit impact and benefit agreements.

And he even gives NTI a well-deserved cuff on the back of the head for its hypocritical lawsuit against the federal government:

In pursuing this course of action [the lawsuit], NTI has failed to understand its own role in Nunavut’s lack of progress. For 10 years, NTI has denied the Nunavut government access to the cash, lands and powers that the Nunavut Agreement provided and that could help the Nunavut government respond to the needs of its citizens.

Mifflin’s piece is well worth reading. Download it here: The Prince And The Pauper — Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated And The Government Of Nunavut

I’m curious about one thing though. And that’s how much time will transpire before some NTI gonif tries to get Mike fired from his job. In Nunavut, that’s the time-honoured way of silencing unwelcome criticism.

But I digress. In another fascinating Policy Options piece, Barry Dewar, who served on the federal government’s Nunavut land claim negotiating team between 1979 and 1993, provides a brief history of the process, which he says has led to a “bifurcated relationship between Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut.”

And Dewar agrees that Ottawa’s foot-dragging on the Nunavut territory produced a land claims agreement that’s redundant and overly complicated:

Had commitments to Nunavut been made early in the negotiation process, it is possible that the NLCA might have been more streamlined.

Guarantees with respect to land and water management boards might have been less detailed. Issues relating to municipal lands, public sector employment and contracting might have been addressed through Nunavut rather than at the land claims table.

Download Dewar’s article here: Nunavut And The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement — An Unresolved Relationship

In the same issue, Policy Options also offers a self-congratulatory screed signed by ex-NTI boss Paul Quassa and Terry Fenge, a consultant-propagandist type who toils for various Ottawa-based Inuit orgs:

Negotiating And Implementing The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement

Move along folks — nothing to see here. To be fair, the Quassa-Fenge piece does serve as an interesting artifact from which you can infer the degree of denial that still infects certain elements of the Nunavut leadership and their hired help.

You’re better off reading the fourth and last article in the Policy Options series last month, an honest analysis of the GN’s enormous challenges — in French — by Thierry Rodon, an associate professor of political science at l’Université Laval:

« Le gouvernement du Nunavut est arrivé à fonctionner, mais il n’a pas réussi à élever de façon notable le niveau de vie de la majorité de la population. »

You can download Rodon’s piece here: Nunavut, un bilan des 10 premières années

If you’ve made it all the way down to this sentence, I again apologize for banging on so much about all this stuff. I promise, you won’t see another 1,100-word post for a long while.

And one last note: Randy Ames died, in a tragic accident, about eight months after writing that letter to me. In it, he asked me not to publish its contents in any form whatsoever. After seeking some ethical advice, and thinking the issue through for myself, I decided there is no longer any reason, after all these years, for keeping its contents a secret.

This entry was posted in Arctic, Canada, Nunavut, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Nunavut land claims agreement: dissecting the bloated cadaver

  1. Throbbin says:

    This is a great post!

    I’ve always appreciated your willingness to go after the powers that be in Nunavut – even if that criticism landed close to home.

    I can’t wait to go back home – if only to piss people off even more than I do from down here.

Comments are closed.