NunatuKavut wants a spot at the negotiating table.
Friday morning’s panel discussion at the Mineral Resources Review on mining and mineral exploration in Labrador featured former Labrador member of Parliament Todd Russell, back with NunatuKavut (formerly known as the Labrador Métis Nation) after losing his seat in the House of Commons earlier this year,
“We have a land claim and asserted rights to a vast area of Labrador. That is a fact,” he said, adding that despite court decisions that the provincial government has a legal duty to consult the group on development, government refuses to, including on Muskrat Falls development, which the nation tried to block after not being consulted. “Mining activity has and continues to take place over our traditional lands. And it is a fact that NunatuKavut community council has not, to date, been consulted or meaningfully engaged.”
Russell, general manager of Nunacor, NunatuKavut’s development corporation, said Métis rights are being compromised, and he urged company representatives in the audience to ignore advice they receive from the province regarding their land claim, which is that the land claim has not been accepted. “Claims acceptance is not a precondition (for negotiation),” he said.
“The legal duty still rests when there is an asserted claim and the probability of rights exists.”
NunatuKavut’s “growing frustration” was familiar to Grand Chief Joseph Riche of the Innu Nation, as he described the fight to be included in development negotiations before finally reaching agreement over the Voisey’s Bay nickel project in the ’90s. “Until Voisey Bay … our experience with developers in Labrador was one of give and take. We gave, they took,” he said, adding that the nation was ignored until it made a decision that still stands today.
“We will not be ignored in our lands, and we will never again — never again — be passive observers to our own future,” he said. “We realized that breaking the cycle of dependence and self-destruction means we had to regain control over our communities and over our lands.”
After the panel, which also included Glen Sheppard, the Nunatsiavut government’s minister of Lands and Natural Resources, speaking about the potential lifting on Labrador’s ban on uranium mining, Russell said the lack of consultation is untenable.
“The beauty of this is that some of the road has already been carved out. Some of the trail has already been blazed in this, with groups like the Innu Nation, with groups like Nunatsiavut,” he said.
“So it shouldn’t be hard for mining companies to understand that this is the way things have to be. It’s just that they have to understand that there’s another aboriginal group that needs to be around the table, and that’s NunatuKavut.”
He also said he thinks the Métis’ attempt to pursue business partnerships is starting to bear fruit.
“I can say with some certainty that there seems to be a little bit of a thaw. Companies are becoming a bit more sensitized, and we hope that that bears fruit, that there’s some positive outcomes in that,” he said.
“It’s like the old saying, ‘the proof will be in the pudding.’ We’ll have to see how the figgy duff goes.”