NunatuKavut slams government’s record on aboriginal issues in 2013

Daniel MacEachern
Published on January 4, 2014
NunatuKavut president Todd Russell

The president of NunatuKavut says the provincial government is exaggerating its claims of advances made for Newfoundland and Labrador’s aboriginal people in 2013.

In a statement released Tuesday, the provincial government said “significant achievements were made in 2013” by the provincial government in advocating for the “social and economic well-being of aboriginal people in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Among the milestones listed by the government are its publication of an aboriginal consultation policy on land and resource development decisions; a renewal of the fiscal financing agreement among the Nunatsiavut government, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the federal government; and

a self-government agreement in principle between the federal and provincial governments and the Miawpukek First Nation.

But Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut, which represents 6,000 southern Inuit of Labrador, said the provincial government has nothing to brag about in 2013.

“Obviously, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to aboriginal issues, and trying to scrounge up some good news, and I would say that it was mighty thin and very unsubstantive, when you look down through it,” he said. “Most of the initiatives were primarily driven by the federal government, particularly on the Miawpukek self-government agreement and on the fiscal financing arrangement.”

And contrary to the provincial government’s claim that “aboriginal consultations were carried out appropriately throughout the environmental assessments of the Lower Churchill hydroelectric generation project and the Labrador-Island transmission link project,” Russell said the consultations were heavily criticized.

Russell said the province off-loads consultation responsibilities to resource companies doing work in Labrador.

“The consultation policy that the province has in place is almost one of an arm’s-length approach that does nothing to engender or build good relationships between the Crown and aboriginal people,” Russell said.

“On the specific Lower Churchill, it’s outrageous to assert that all consultation has been appropriate. Obviously, maybe from their own perspective, they have to say that,” Russell said.

“They can take no other position, but that’s not something that’s shared, certainly by our organization. And if the court docket is any indication, it’s certainly not shared by Nunatsiavut either, and not shared by a hell of lot of groups in Quebec.”

The provincial government needs to overhaul its approach to consultation policies, he said, with a focus on affirming better relationships with aboriginal populations.

A request for an interview with Nick McGrath, minister responsible for Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, to respond to Russell’s comments was declined.

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