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Nunavik set to vote for regional government

Inuit community will vote to end long struggle for self-governance

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The region of Nunavik, the northern third of Quebec, officially began a formal referendum period on March 21 in preparation for a region-wide vote scheduled for April 27. The referendum presents the option of creating the Regional Government of Nunavik (RGN).

The completed draft of the Final Agreement for the RGN outlines specific forms of government, such as establishing a parliament-style council and an amalgamation of three of Nunavik’s existing governance structures: the Kativik Regional Government, Kativik School Board (KSB), and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS).

Makivik Corporation, a non-profit Inuit-owned organization, manages the relationship between the Quebec government and Inuit communities who make up 90 per cent of the approximately 12,000 people living in Nunavik.

Makivik’s website identifies the push for self-government as “Quebec’s other quiet revolution” – and something that has been “unfolding slowly but steadily.” Initial advocacy for self-governance originated in the 1960 Federal-Provincial Commission on Arctic Quebec. Feedback from the Commission expressed a desire from Inuit communities to govern themselves.

While the federal and provincial governments are represented in negotiations, Geoffrey Kelley, Quebec minister for Native Affairs, described the Final Agreement and referendum as “more of an Inuit affair.”

“We, in terms of facilitators, negotiate the positions of Quebec, but it’s really above all else them coming to the correct government with the proposal,” said Kelley.
The RGN would not be solely an Inuit authority, instead the proposed structure of the RGN is a public government embracing parliamentary and democratic process, and representing all Nunavik citizens.

Luc Ferland, Bloc Québécois MNA for the Ungava riding – the current Nunavik electoral district – explained the demographics of the region.

“The [Nunavik] territory altogether is 55 per cent of Quebec [with] 14 Inuit villages, nine Cree villages, and five municipalities that are francophone,” said Ferland.

Any Canadian citizen, aged 18 or older, having lived in Nunavik for over a year is eligible to vote in the referendum.

The RGN proposal also has implications for other groups in Ungava and pre-existing governance structures beyond those of Inuit communities.

“A lot of what took some time was developing a dialogue between the Inuit and the Naskapi, who are 800 people and much smaller in the grand scheme of things.  At first, the [KSB] and [NRBHSS] were against the idea [and] started a court case to defend their interests,” said Kelley. “After awhile they abandoned that approach, and again, that took some negotiations to make sure that the interests of education and health care don’t get lost in the model.”

Despite initial resistance to the RGN and the Final Agreement, Kelley said he was optimistic.

“There was a tour done very recently in the 14 villages and there seems to be good enthusiasm so we hope it doesn’t snow on the 27 of April and that people go out and vote in the right direction,” Kelley said.

Parallel to negotiations regarding the RGN and Final Agreement is the ongoing reformulation of Quebec’s electoral districts. Efforts to create a Nunavik riding, giving it its own representative in the National Assembly are been ongoing.

“I have always hoped for [this], even at the beginning, because I have found it to represent an immense territory,” said Ferland.

Due to electoral regulations, the Makivik Corporation is not able to speak publicly on the Agreement during the referendum period.

With files from Erin Hudson