The passing of Bill C-11 through the House of Commons this fall gives effect to the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement, but it has been hotly debated as either helpful or hurtful on both sides of the Inuit/Cree spectrum.

In short, the agreement gives the Inuit more than $50 million for education and socioeconomic projects, title to offshore islands and royalty rights to future exploration in the mineral-rich areas.

In October, Senator Charlie Watt told a House of Commons committee that the deal, while protecting existing Inuit rights, does not go far enough financially to address the needs of his people.

“The agreement provides $50,671,460 for educational, social, cultural and socioeconomic needs of 10,000 individuals, which represents $5,067.15 per individual,” Senator Watt told the House. “The agreement provides that that amount will be paid over a period of 10 years, which represents $506.71 yearly per individual. You cannot do too much with that amount of money.”

As in the debate for the Paix des Braves in 2002, some Inuk feel a betrayal of sorts from their leaders with the implementation, by 2010, of this agreement.

“In 1993, Nunavut Inuit received, for a similar agreement, more than $1 billion for 17,000 individuals,” Senator Watt continued. “This means $58,000 each. Why such a difference?”

Senator Watt is also concerned that Nunavik Inuit will have no right to challenge the agreement. Sections 2.7 and 2.8 of the agreement state that the Inuit; shall have no claim or cause of action based on the finding that any provision of this Agreement is invalid, and shall not challenge, or support a challenge to, the validity of any provision of this Agreement.

“Giving up judicial rights goes against the rule of law and our Constitution,” he told the House.

Watt also had dire warnings for the amount of animals the Inuit would be limited to hunting during the 20-year agreement, which implements, for instance, a quota on Beluga harvesting.

“This provision is not a benefit; it is an unacceptable restriction,” he said. “This agreement has major negative impacts on human beings and their constitutional rights.”

The agreement is to be presented to the Inuit people in early 2008 through referendum consultations in each of the 14 communities.

Senator Watt cautioned that other grave concerns remain, such as Makivik Corporation’s representation of the Inuit people, despite the absence of a power of attorney. He cited a lawsuit, called the “Inuit of Nunavut as represented by Nunavik Tunngavik, Inc.” which calls into question NTI’s representation.

“This situation puzzles me because Makivik plays an equivalent role to NTI, but for Nunavik Inuit,” said Senator Watt. “The problem is that the government seems satisfied that Makivik represents Nunavik Inuit when it is time to extinguish existing Aboriginal rights. Does that mean that later, if Nunavik Inuit must sue the government, they must act individually and personally after they have lost existing Aboriginal rights collectively?”

“Unfortunately, with Bill C-11 we have no more existing Aboriginal rights and the treaty ensures that we will never have them again.”

Saskatchewan Senator Leonard Gustafson, meanwhile, was wholly in favour of the Bill.

“Clearly, the Inuit of Northern Quebec have proven that, given the opportunity, the sky is the limit,” Senator Gustafson enthused. “Honourable Senators, it is now up to us to support Bill C-11, to give Nunavik Inuit the remaining tools and resources they need to reach for the northern star.”

Cree Grand Chief Matthew Mukash is in full agreement with Bill C-11, despite the uncertainty raised by Senator Watt.

“In 2003 the Crees of Eeyou Istchee and the Nunavik Inuit entered into an Agreement relating to the Cree-lnuit Offshore Overlapping Interest Area,” Mukash told the Senate. “Under this overlap agreement, a portion of the offshore area has been identified as being of common interest to the Inuit and the Cree.

“This is why the Grand Council of the Crees, Eeyou Istchee, has a direct interest in the successful adoption of this bill by the Senate,” Mukash continued. “Indeed, should the bill not be adopted, both the Inuit and the Cree would lose the benefit of the formal recognition by government of the Aboriginal ownership of lands located in the overlap area, including joint Cree-lnuit ownership of the substantial land interests located in the joint Inuit-Cree zone. This is an outcome that we would not accept.”

Mukash also recognized Senator’s Watts concerns by saying, “he raises some important and serious issues,” such as Nunavut law applying to Nunavik territory, but that unless the entire claims policy is re-written, the Bill must be passed without delay.

At one point Quebec Senator Serge Joyal called the Cree position under the Bill into question. Senator Joyal pressed Cree lawyer Robert Mainville for a clearer picture after Grand Chief Mukash said that the Crees are not part of the Bill, but they would have land rights through an understanding with the Inuit once it was signed.

“Then the only way you could be affected by this treaty between the Inuit and the government would be if there were a conflict of interpretation on the treaty between the Inuit and the government,” said Senator Joyal. “Could the decision that might follow up an arbitration procedure or any other legal procedure affect you indirectly?”

“Indirectly, yes,” said Mainville. “Theoretically, that could be possible. The Cree and the Inuit have mutually recognized in the overlap agreement their mutual Aboriginal interest and rights in that area. The Government of Canada, however, was hesitant to make that recognition formally. I cannot speak for the Government of Canada….but they are not prepared to formally recognize those Aboriginal rights in this instrument.”

Mainville went on to stress that whatever royalties either party – Cree or Inuit received – will be shared equally with the other.