Nunavut Land Claim Agreements

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In the 1970s, there was an intersection between two important themes in the Northwest Territories: the Confederation`s commitment to negotiate the ongoing Aboriginal claims, in accordance with its comprehensive land claim policy of 1973, and initiatives to divide the territory and restructure the territory`s government. In February 1976, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) made a presentation to the federal cabinet on the treatment of Aboriginal Inuit claims in the NWT, including the creation of a separate territory from Nunavut as an integral part of the payment of Inuit claims. The ITC proposed a tree boundary between the Western and Eastern NWTs, with Nunavut, including the Mackenzie-Delta-Beaufort Maritime Region, occupied by the Inuvialuit. A revised Inuit proposal, introduced in December 1977, maintained the concept of a new territory. During the same period, dene and Métis submitted their focal claims to the Western NWT and also submitted proposals to divide and restructure the NWT government. It was in this broad and rapidly changing political and legal context that Nunavut`s original proposal was developed by ITC in 1975. Negotiations with the Canadian government have been slow and hesitant; the parties had very different views on the magnitude, intent and preferred outcome of the exercise. To expedite the process, the negotiating mandate for the Nunavut claim was withdrawn in 1982 by ITC and entrusted to a newly created Inuit organization, the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN), created to negotiate a modern contract with the Government of Canada. During the 1980s, the land claims team oversaw new progress that no longer occurred on the political development front, but maintained a complete separation between the initiatives. Section 4 of the 1990 Nunavut Agreement reaffirms in principle the “support in principle” of Canada and the NWT for the creation of Nunavut, but “outside the claims process.” It also involves the obligation to hold a referendum at the border and to negotiate an agreement on the separation of powers. This is the first time that political development has been tackled coldly and hard in a vast instrument of earthly claim, but not in a final agreement. In hindsight, this was a big step forward for the Inuit.

TFN knew that the Nunavut project, if it were able to manage the conditions, particularly the border plebiscite, would gain considerable political momentum, perhaps inexorable, and public support. That is exactly what happened. A limit was essential both for the foe claim contract and for the political development process. Following an investigation that revealed a persistent disagreement between Inuit and Dene, the federal government asked John Parker, a former NWT representative, to recommend a uniform boundary between the two claim areas. Despite great dissatisfaction with parts of the Parker Line, Inuit leaders reluctantly accepted the border in July 1991, subject to a number of concessions at the national action table on land quantum and property rights. The urgent need for a demarcation line for the Nunavut and border process was the decisive factor for Inuit leaders. Had Nunavut not been in the equation, the border issue could have resulted in or fragmented the land`s claim to the founder or fragment into three regional Inuit claims. In accordance with the new comprehensive requirement policy, Nunavut`s federal claim negotiation team had to strive for a ministerial mandate for a package of land claims before returning to the negotiating table. Discussions with TFN in mid-1987 resulted in consensus on the remaining list of issues ready to be negotiated. The federal team then sought cabinet approval on the sub-agreements already negotiated and a mandate to deal with all outstanding issues.

The mandate was adopted in November 1987. In light of changes in claims policy, it has authorized federal negotiators to look at offshore rights, royalty-sharing and the decision-making powers of the



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