Labrador group says Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami can’t ‘unilaterally’ decide who is Inuit

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. — Labrador’s NunatuKavut Community Council is pushing back against the group representing Inuit in Canada after its president asked Ottawa to stop providing the council with services reserved for Inuit.

In a statement Wednesday, the council said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s letter last week to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau challenging the community council’s status as an Inuit organization was “ill-informed and discriminatory.”

“The ITK does not have the right to unilaterally determine Inuit identity, nor how NCC should be recognized by the federal government,” the statement said.

The NunatuKavut Community Council says it is the governing body for about 6,000 Inuit in the southern region of Labrador. The area is not recognized as Inuit territory.

In his Oct. 7 letter to Trudeau, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed said archeological and historical evidence shows the territory claimed by the community council “has never been permanently occupied by Inuit,” adding: “An Inuit territory outside of the four regions that constitute Inuit Nunangat does not exist.”

ITK reject’s the federal government’s recognition of the NunatuKavut Community Council as an Inuit organization, Obed wrote. He asked Ottawa to exclude the council from all policies, services and initiatives intended for Inuit, as well as any future Inuit-specific budget allocations.

Obed said Ottawa’s continued engagement with the council sets a precedent “that could enable similar groups with fraudulent claims to an historical Indigenous heritage” to lay claim to rights and territory that aren’t theirs.

In its statement Wednesday, the NunatuKavut Community Council said ITK used “Eurocentric and outdated” research to investigate the council’s legitimacy. “Our people experienced firsthand the horrific realities of multiple forms of colonization, like residential schools, forced relocation and the Grenfell mission,” the statement said.

The Nunatsiavut government, which represents the recognized Inuit territory along the region’s north coast, said last month that after extensive research it does not believe the NunatuKavut Community Council has a legitimate land claim.

“The Nunatsiavut executive council believes that while some members of the NCC may themselves have some Indigenous ancestry and backgrounds, the NCC has no viable claim to land in Labrador,” it said in a news release Sept. 16.

Labrador’s Innu Nation has also voiced an objection. “Just because you have some members that have some Indigenous ancestry and you self-identify as Indigenous, doesn’t make you a nation,” Grand Chief Etienne Rich said in a Sept. 16 news release. “You can’t just make this stuff up.”

Yvonne Jones, the Liberal member of Parliament for Labrador, identifies as a NunatuKavut Inuit.

In April, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, then the NDP member for Nunavut, said Jones was not an Inuk. “Until you can tell me who your family is, and where you come from, and how you’re Inuk, and validate your Inukness, you have no space to say you’re Inuk,” Qaqqaq said in a now-deleted video posted to social media.

Qaqqaq apologized after Jones demanded in the House of Commons that she do so.

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