The signing of a devolution agreement in principle early morning Aug.15 capped a busy week of federal announcements in the capital.
The intent of devolution is to see a transfer of powers from Ottawa to Nunavut.
“I’m just happy that this day came,” said Premier Joe Savikataaq after the announcement.
“We barely got to this date.”
During his speech, Savikataaq warned that “devolution doesn’t mean everything will be instantly different.”
“Rather, it means that over time, with the benefits of Nunavut’s growing economy, our communities will begin to see the improvements with infrastructure and increase in employment. By devolving federal responsibilities, Nunavummiut will have the ability and the means to manage their decisions on how our public lands, fresh water and non-renewable resources are used and developed,” he said.
Savikataaq, along with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) president Aluki Kotierk and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett formalized the fourteen-chapter document five years in the making.
Devolution negotiations formally began in 2014, based on a protocol signed in 2008, and after an interruption in 2015 due to a change in the federal party in power, resumed in 2016.
Also, when Paul Quassa was premier, he replaced chief negotiator Simon Awa, who had been doing the job for four years, with Paul Okalik. One week later, when Savikataaq took over leadership, one of the first things he did was reinstate Awa.
Awa emceed the Thursday morning event.
“Devolution has been a dream for the Inuit of Nunavut, in showing decision-making power rests here in our territory, by us and for us,” said Awa, adding mutual respect among the parties, with an eye to the future of the territory, drove negotiations.
Bennett, as well as Kotierk and Savikataaq, repeatedly acknowledged negotiators, which currently, along with Awa, includes Carson Gillis for NTI and Fred Caron for the feds.
“It is indeed a milestone,” said Bennett about the agreement in principle.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that doesn’t know what was first envisioned in the development of the Nunavut Agreement more than 25 years ago. This unlocks the vision of self-determination, the vision of being able to look after your people, and their lands and waters, in the way that you know best.”
Final negotiations have now begun, and will include offshore resources and consultations with other Indigenous groups. Offshore was off the table in these past five years of negotiations, but will be a significant aspect of the next phase.
“We want to get offshore mainly so we can control it, royalties, too. We know that most of the known mineral resources are on Inuit-owned land. Even after devolution we don’t expect to get much for royalties off the land. So offshore is where we (GN) get our royalties. That’s why it’s so important for us to negotiate this part of the final devolution agreement (to include) offshore,” said Savikataaq.
‘Father of Nunavut’ satisfied
Elder, political leader and ‘Father of Nunavut’ John Amagoalik, who has actively advocated for Nunavut Inuit since the 1960s, was a witness signatory to the agreement in principle.
He served in the same capacity at the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the federal government at the historic apology held the day before.
“I feel very satisfied,” Amagoalik told Nunavut News about the agreement in principle.
“It’s taken a lot of patience for many, many years.”
He said when he and others forged the political movement half a century ago that would see a land claim and Nunavut come to be, it was difficult to know how long it might take.
For Amagoalik, it’s taken a lifetime to see the results of years of hard work.
In the absence of translation, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk shared the thoughts she expressed in Inuktitut with those gathered with press after the event.
“It’s good to get to this point. When Nunavut was created, Inuit expected they would be employees of the government. Article 23 (of the Nunavut Agreement) stipulates that there will be a representative workforce (in government) so I am particularly pleased that in the agreement in principle one of the things that’s highlighted is there will be a human resource strategy established,” she said.
“I hope that’s another push to the governments to ensure that they actually live up to and implement Article 23.”
She emphasized that recent developments, referring to numerous federal announcement related to Nunavut, have the intention of making life better for Inuit.
“This is one additional step in which we get additional hope that it will actually have a positive impact on Inuit lives.”
Kotierk also stressed, “it’s through working together – piliriqatigiinniq – that we were able to achieve this.”
“I encourage us to continue to work together on all fronts, because that’s what Inuit expect and that’s how we’re going to achieve things for Inuit.”