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Both Innu Nation, NunatuKavut Community Council claim victory after Federal Court decision

June 13, 2024

APTN News: The Canadian Press – A Federal Court judge has dismissed a bid by Labrador’s Innu Nation to throw out an agreement involving the NunatuKavut Community Council, but both groups claim the ruling is a win.

The case involved the NunatuKavut Community Council, formerly the Labrador Métis Nation and the Labrador Métis Association, represents some 6,000 people who claim they are Inuit in south and central Labrador. They aren’t recognized as Inuit by any other federally recognized, rights-holding Inuit collective.

The central issue is whether the council could enter into a memorandum of understanding with the federal government, or if doing so gives the council legal recognition it is not entitled to.

The memorandum of understanding refers to the NunatuKavut Community Council as an “Indigenous collective capable of holding Section 35 Aboriginal rights,” something the Innu Nation took great issue with.

The Innu Nation, comprises of two First Nations in Labrador, had asked the Federal Court to throw out the 2019 memorandum, saying the NCC is a settler organization and its land claims overlap with their territory and the Crown had failed to consult with them.

The Federal Court dismissed that application for judicial review on Wednesday, saying the agreement doesn’t affect legal rights and does not recognize the NunatuKavut Community Council as an “Aboriginal people of Canada.”

“It is an expression of goodwill and political commitment, and it serves to confirm a Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination discussion table process through which NCC may, or may not, be ultimately recognized as an Aboriginal people of Canada,” a release from the court reads.

“The duty to consult may be triggered at a later date if Innu Nation’s or another Aboriginal group’s rights may be affected by a product of the RIRSD discussion table, and such a possibility is contemplated by the (memorandum). As yet, however, any potential impacts remain speculative.”

The Innu Nation is celebrating the decision as confirmation the NCC isn’t recognized as having sec. 35 rights under the Constitution.

“The decision confirms what the Innu Nation wanted confirmed for all of the world to know and to be clear on which is the NunatuKavut community council or NCC has never been recognized as an Aboriginal People under the constitution,” Matt McPherson, lawyer for the Innu Nation, told APTN News, “and they never have been recognized as having section 35 rights.”

NCC President Todd Russell, a former Liberal MP celebrated the court’s dismissal of the judicial review and said the MOU still stands. He added the nearly five-year long “violent misinformation campaign” about his group is nearing its close, and that he looks to the future with optimism.

“This win was an affirming win that in fact, we do have on the face of it a case for Aboriginal rights and so we want to be at a table to be able to give expression to those rights to talk about what our needs and priorities are for our communities and this court decision certainly paves the way for that to happen,” Russell told APTN.

Asked if the decision is truly a win for the group given it didn’t recognize sec. 35 rights or recognize its members as Aboriginal Peoples, Russell called it “an unequivocal victory.”

“Now, on the finer points of the law, you may want to talk to our lawyers,” he said.

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Last month, the Innu Nation and the Nunatsiavut government took their concerns about the NCC to a summit on Indigenous identity fraud, hosted by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario.

The groups passed a resolution against the NCC, calling on the federal government and Newfoundland and Labrador to “cease their actions accommodating Indigenous identity theft” by working with the organization and giving it access to benefits.

It also calls for criminal law reforms to ensure funds set aside for Indigenous Peoples are not misappropriated by individuals or organizations “fraudulently claiming Indigenous identity.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the Innu Nation urged Canada to listen to “630 First Nations, all Inuit and legitimate Métis” and stop signing agreements with groups like the NunatuKavut Community Council.

“The confusion created by these meaningless legal agreements with impostor groups causes real harms by, among other things, diverting desperately needed resources away from actual Indigenous Peoples,” the statement said.

Russell firmly maintains NCC legitimately holds sec. 35 Aboriginal rights.

“I would say with all confidence that there is no other group in Canada, certainly not in eastern Canada, or northeast Canada that has such a strong prima facie case to aboriginal rights as the NunatuKavut Inuit. I would also say that we are in a very, very strong legal position as this win is one of many that we have had in the courts,” said Russell.

McPherson said the MOU has no legal affect and the Innu Nation will continue to protect their rights.

“Innu Nation will be watching what Canada is doing with NCC very closely and continuing to aggressively advocate to ensure that Innu Nations rights and Innu Nation’s 8000 year plus existence in Labrador is not threatened by a group of settlers that are pretending to be something that they are not,” said McPherson.

With files from the Canadian Press

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