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Innu Nation federal court challenge over NunatuKavut deal with Ottawa begins

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe, Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue and Ghislain Picard, regional chief of Quebec and Labrador for the Assembly of First Nations, are in Ottawa this week to dispute an MOU signed between NunatuKavut and the federal government. (CBC - image credit)
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe, Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue and Ghislain Picard, regional chief of Quebec and Labrador for the Assembly of First Nations, are in Ottawa this week to dispute an MOU signed between NunatuKavut and the federal government. (CBC - image credit)
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe, Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue and Ghislain Picard, regional chief of Quebec and Labrador for the Assembly of First Nations, are in Ottawa this week to dispute an MOU signed between NunatuKavut and the federal government.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe, Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue and Ghislain Picard, regional chief of Quebec and Labrador for the Assembly of First Nations, are in Ottawa this week to dispute an MOU signed between NunatuKavut and the federal government.

From left, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe, Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue and Ghislain Picard, regional chief of Quebec and Labrador for the Assembly of First Nations, are in Ottawa this week to dispute an MOU signed between NunatuKavut and the federal government. (CBC)

A long-awaited and previously delayed court challenge over Canada's recognition of the Indigenous status of NunatuKavut began Tuesday in Ottawa.

Innu Nation began the campaign in 2019 to refute claims of Indigenous ancestry made by the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) and to quash a memorandum of understanding signed between the NCC and the federal government earlier that year.

The challenge was supposed to begin in October but was rescheduled.

In a news conference — where punches weren't pulled — Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue told reporters Tuesday's court date was a long time coming.

"We are here to defend our right, in the face of false and misleading claims of the NunatuKavut Community Council," Pokue said, shortly after leaving the court house.

"The Innu suffered a great deal because of actions of settlers and their government. Now we face this threat, the threat that our life will be undermined by NCC, formerly known as Labrador Métis. This is a group of settlers pretending to be Inuit."

NunatuKavut says it represents about 6,000 Inuit in central and southern Labrador.

Innu Nation, national Inuit representative Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Nunatsiavut government — which represents Inuit in five communities on Labrador's north coast — have for years disputed those claims and the legitimacy of the NCC's Indigenous status. All three are represented in Ottawa during this week's trial.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue says the beginning of the court challenge was a long time coming.
Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue says the beginning of the court challenge was a long time coming.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Simon Pokue says the beginning of the court challenge was a long time coming. (CBC)

The dispute between recognized Inuit groups and NunatuKavut dates back to the early 1990s, when the now-defunct Labrador Métis Nation filed a land claim with the federal government.

At the time, the claim was rejected by both the provincial and federal governments. It became active again in 2010 when the group renamed itself the NCC.

"Accepting false claims undermines what we've fought so hard to achieve. The resilience and perseverance of our ancestors run through our ways, urging us to safeguard our heritage and our cultural identity," said Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe.

"Recognizing a settler group in Labrador, whose members just a short few years ago identified themselves as Métis, is harmful and disrespectful. This is not reconciliation."

Members of NunatuKavut, including President Todd Russell, are in Ottawa to attend the two-day court hearing.

Russell and the NCC say the court challenge and campaign against the MOU is an attempt to deny culture, connection to ancestral lands and is a form of racism and lateral violence.

Members of NunatuKavut Community Council, including president Todd Russell, second from left, are in Ottawa for the two-day hearing.
Members of NunatuKavut Community Council, including president Todd Russell, second from left, are in Ottawa for the two-day hearing.

Members of NunatuKavut Community Council, including president Todd Russell, second from left, are in Ottawa for the two-day hearing. (NunatuKavut Community Council/X)

"It wasn't a surprise to us to see them, I guess, all congregated together to continue to push for their particular position, which is one that is unsubstantiated, untenable and has no basis in fact or evidence, law, history or any other study that could be conducted," Russell told CBC News Tuesday afternoon about the groups he and NCC are facing off against.

"There's been a number of different cases that we've been very successful on in the courts and which, of course, has also furthered our work and our relationships with various orders of government."

Russell said his group has been pursuing the recognition of its Inuit rights for roughly 40 years.

The conversation currently happening around identity and claims is an important one, but has nothing to do with the NCC's situation, he said.

"It's only that some others are starting to try to project that conversation over on us and really there's no basis for it. Inuit were up and down the coast of Labrador … since time immemorial," Russell said.

"We were Indigenous enough to be thrown in jail for protesting for our rights. We were Indigenous enough that many of our people, our young people, went to residential schools. We were Indigenous enough for those things."

Russell said what's really happening is other groups are opposed to the progress and the recognition the NCC has achieved with various orders of government. He said it boils down to a conflict over resources, money, Canadian government discussions and possible developments.

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