The Quebec government granted 14 Inuit villages a $450 million development program April 9 in exchange for their agreement to expand hydroelectric generating capacity in their territory.

The agreement was negotiated in secret talks over the last month and drawn up in the form of a treaty. Inuit leaders described it as a new and important recognition of their rights as a self-governing people.

Under the agreement, the Inuit will receive money for parks, road paving and low-cost housing over a 25-year period. The 9,600 Inuit inhabitants of northern Quebec will also receive money for creating jobs through tourism projects and Internet sales of arts and crafts.

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry flew to the village of Tasiujaq for the signing ceremony. The agreement still needs the approval of 14 Inuit communities in balloting to take place over the next month.

Pita Aatami, president of the Makivik Corporation, said at the signing ceremony that the agreement would give new hope to Inuit young people. “This is a new beginning, a new era,” he was quoted as saying by the Canadian Press news agency. “We’re starting to work as partners.” The agreement does not address the issue of sovereignty, nor do the Inuit renounce their own claims to northern portions of Quebec.