"The Labrador Inuit have been pursuing a Land Claims Agreement with the Federal and Provincial Governments since LIA's Statement of Claim was accepted by both Governments in 1980; one of the the longest active claim negotiations in Canada at 17 years." -

Labrador Inuit Association

Labrador Inuit History and Culture

The Sikumiut -- "the people of the sea ice" -- have occupied the north coast of Labrador for thousands of years.  Referred to as the Inuit of Labrador, they share common language and cultural patterns with other Inuit of the circumpolar region (Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the Chukotkan Peninsula of Russia).  Inuit culture was historically that of a nomadic people.  They travelled often during the year seeking animals which were their sources of food, clothing, light, warmth and tools.  They are perhaps most famous for the method of travel on water using skin boats called kayaks.   Kayaks are skin covered boats that can carry one person.  Similar to the kayak, the umiak is a larger boat which could carry up to 20 people.  Dogs were vital to their economy in that they were essential for winter transportation (a team would pull a komatik)as well as for help in hunting.  The sea was a rich source of food.  Seal,walrus, whales, cod, char and salmon were harvested and in many ways are essential parts of Inuit culture.  Caribou were the most important of land animal.  Today, settled primarily in 5 communities in northern Labrador, the Inuit struggle to maintain a cultural identity that has been dissociated from the land in which in is intimately linked.

The Labrador Inuit Association represents approximately 5,000 Inuit living along the Labrador coast (primarily) in the communities of Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville and Rigolet. The community of Nain numbers largest among them (1,000 residents).  The five communities were settled as recently as 1959.

Their struggles today are centered on decolonizing their past, present and future. Principle among these struggles are efforts to maintain their language, Inuktitut.   Spoken today by as many as one quarter of the population, it remained a primary language until 1949 when confederation and the establishment of a schooling system placed the language into a secondary role.  The unusually young Inuit population are struggling with a variety of social ills related to aspects of colonization - racism, alcoholism and high suicide rates among them.  In adition to changes in Inuit cultural and subsistence patterns are the economic problems of the province itself.   Economic instability and a lack of year-round employment has led to regular seasonal unemployment that averages 80% or higher. "Unless the Labrador Inuit are able to manage their own destiny through a comprehensive land claims settlement and an accompanying self-government agreement, social problems will continue to grow, and the culture and language will continue to erode as these children reach adulthood." -- Labrador Inuit Association

Land Claims

The issue of land ownership has been critical for both the Labrador Inuit and Utshimassiu Innu. The Inuit Statement of Claim (accepted by both Canada's Governments in 1980) conflicted with Innu claims to the land (which was accepted 1990). Like the Innu, the Inuit have never ceded territory to the Governments of Canada or Newfoundland. Despite the conflicting land claims, the parties involved were able to facilitate an agreement.

Within the region claimed by the Labrador Inuit Asociation is the area they call Tasiujatsoak - Voisey's Bay.  Tasiujatsoak, the mine site, is located on Labrador's remote northern coast, in a region that was the focus of overlapping land claims by Labrador's 5,000 Inuit and 1,500 Innu.  Moves to develop the resources at Tasiujatsoak promoted an alliance between the Labrador Inuit and the Innu Nation despite their conflicting land claims.  Together, the Inuit and Innu staged protests arising from provincial decisions allowing Inco, Ltd. to circumvent the environmental nbsp; "Development at the site has gone far enough. Inco is now building a road and an airstrip without Innu and Inuit consent. Without our consent there will be no project!", stated Katie Rich, President of the Innu Nation. August 20 - 28, 1997.

The Voisey's Bay Nickel Company (VBNC) moved forward with plans to build an airstrip and road at Tasiujatsoak despite apparent government support forbidding such practice.   These moves toward development were blatant efforts by the Voisey's Bay Nickel Company (subsidiary of Inco, Ltd.) to undermine the environmental assessment process.   This despite the fact that the Innu Nation and LIA had succesfully negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Canada and Newfoundland.  The MOU was intended to guarantee a single and comprehensive review of the Voisey's Bay project.  This memorandum actually called for a more rigorous examination of the issues associated with this development than an environmental assessment provided for.  Due to the lack of a land claim settlement, and the overlapping claims to the land at Tasiujatsoak, the MOU also provided for the participation in this process by the Innu and Inuit.  Prior to the actions of VBNC,  this examination would research the impact of development on environmental, cultural and social effects of such a development.  Similar nickel mining projects elsewhere have witnessed severe environmental and social side effects.   A thorough examination of this project could have led to the implementation of a development plan that might limit the social disjunction and environmental damage that are associated with mining projects of this nature. After a series of court decisions - first supporting VBNC and finally supporting the Innu/Inuit coalition - the construction was temporarily halted.

Despite the duplicity of VBNC (prior to circumventing the intent of the MOU, VBNC claimed to support the environmental assessment process but made moves to continue development at Voisey's Bay), they seem to have made major strides in beginning development at Voisey's Bay.  The once unresolved question of land claims to the region appear to at least be partially answered.  "Labrador Inuit negotiators have agreed with the federal and provincial governments on the outline of a land claim settlement that will go a long way toward opening the door for development of the giant Voisey's Bay nickel mine" (The Globe and Mail, October 31, 1997).

After a long 17 years during which Inuit land claims have been negotiated, government offers for settlement were arrived at and agreed upon in late October of 1997. Soon after the LIA Board accepted the government offers:

"The Board of Directors of the Labrador Inuit Association passed a resolution late Tuesday to accept the conditions of a document related to facilitating an Agreement-In-Principle (AIP) toward a land claims package."

On November 5, 1997 (after several weeks of intensive negotiations in Ottawa), the Labrador Inuit Association passed a resolution accepting the conditions of a document related to facilitating an Agreement-In-Principle (AIP) toward a land claims package. The outstanding issue resolved at the session include self-government provisions, taxation and royalties, and the size of Inuit lands. The agreement contains the following elements:

  1. Land Regime: setting out two categories of land totaling 28,000 square miles in northern Labrador (Labrador Inuit Lands LIL providing for surface title to 6,100 square miles; Labrador Inuit Settlement Area LISA providing for priority subsistence harvesting rights and other shared rights to approximately 17,000 square miles)
  2. Resource Royalty Sharing: The document contains provisions for royalty sharing from resources from both categories of land.
  3. Voisey's Bay Project: Labrador Inuit will receive 3% of provincial resource royalties from the project; LIA has agreed to use "best efforts" to conclude an IIBA with the Voisey's Bay Nickel Company.
  4. Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreements (IIBA): IIBA's which are to be negotiated between a developer and Labrador Inuit will be compulsory for developments on LIL and for major developments in LISA outside LIL. A major development is any development that entails capital expenditures of $40 million or 150 person years of employment in any five year period.
  5. Cash: The federal government will provide Labrador Inuit with $140 million in cash and up to $115 million in dedicated funds to be used for such things as fisheries, economic development and general implementation.
  6. Self-Government: Agreement has been reached on Inuit Community Governance which guarantees Inuit political control over the 5 communities while protecting the political rights of non-Inuit residents of the communities.

    (for further details refer to the Land Claims Backgrounder)

The details of this agreement stipulate that the Inuit are to receive approximately 5% of Labrador (6,100 square miles) with boundaries yet to be defined; 3% of the province's mineral and mining taxes under a royalty agreement from Voisey's Bay; 25% of provincial royalties from future mining developments on Inuit land but these royalties will be capped.  "The per capita income of Labrador Inuit stands at $7,900.  Once that figure hits the Canadian average of $17,000 a year, provincial royalty flow will be cut off" (CBC/nov697AM">CBC Radio Regional News, 11/6/97 AM News).  The Inuit will receive payments from their negotiated impact benefit agreements, with corporations such as Inco, Ltd.  They will receive $140 million dollars in cash from Ottawa as well as an additional $115 million through social and economic development agreements. Finally, they are guaranteed fishing via preferential treatment in receiving commercial fishing licences.  Ottawa will continue to manage the marine territory prioritizing conservation over Inuit needs.

The provincial government placed the negotiations with the Inuit onto a fast-track which seemed to at least expedite the process.  The power for LIA to negotiate, however, appears to have been severely limited.  According to Toby Anderson, co-chief negotiator for the LIA, " Myself and Ches Andersen made it clear we were putting our initials to this document, to these principles not because we agreed with everything in it but because we were told very very clearly this was as far as Premier Tobin would allow his negotiators to go. This was the bottom line. The Inuit would get no more" CBC/nov1097PM">CBC Radio St. Johns News, 11/10/97). 

With this claim essentially resolved,  Premier Tobin says it's time to get on with the Voisey's Bay development:

"There is no reason anymore, with respect to this project, not to move forward.   Take a green light on land claims and translate the statement of principles that have been negotiated and signed off by negotiators, into an agreement in principle.   That should happen." CBC Radio Regional News, 11/4/1997 (PM news)

Inco, Ltd. CEO Mike Sopko echoed this belief stating: "we're gonna then work very hard to put the impact benefits agreement in place."

The transition of the government's negotiations with the Inuit has moved the development process forward. Negotiations between Inco, Ltd. and the LIA have begun to stamp out an impact benefits agreement (IBA). The purpose of an IBA is to deal with issues of employment and revenue-sharing.  As stated in the land-claims agreement, an IBA is mandatory within Inuit-controlled land and for major developments (exceeding $40 million in expenditure) on settlement area lands.  At stake are several hundred million dollars.


Environmental Assessment

This section is under construction

All large scale natural resource extraction in Canada must have a federally approved environmental assessment before undertaking the actual development. Key questions to be decided are: How damaging will be the impact of development be on the environment? Will the process be safe for industry workers and surrounding residents?  How should development of this resource be managed?   This determination is made by a panel of experts including participants with detailed knowledge of the industrial activity involved as well as environmental and social/cultural conditions in the local region.


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