What is Inuit Self-Government?
The Government of Canada recognizes the inherent right of self-government as an existing Aboriginal right under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982,whereas:
“Recognition of the inherent right is based on the view that the Aboriginal peoples of Canada have the right to govern themselves in relation to matters that are internal to their communities, integral to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions, and with respect to their special relationship to their land and their resources”.[i]
Under the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Government of Canada has the fiduciary responsibility to ensure that Inuit live in equality with their fellow Canadian citizens and have the liberty and autonomy to have control over the decisions they once had when they lived solely on the land. Under constitutional law, Inuit have the right to negotiate self-government agreements that will enable them to have a “greater responsibility and control over the decision making that affects their communities.” Self-government agreements may address:[ii]
- the structure and accountability of Inuit regional governments,;
- Inuit regional government law-making powers;
- financial arrangements and responsibilities for providing programs and services within the region; and
- the ability of Inuit governments to work in partnership with other governments and the private sector to promote economic development and improve social conditions.
In 1971, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (now called Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) was formed by Inuit as a political organization to lobby the Government of Canada to increase the autonomy of Inuit in Canada through the pursuit of self-government and land claims agreements.[iii] Each land claims agreement defines Inuit rights over land, resources, governance, and the use of Crown and Commissioner’s lands for hunting, fishing and trapping.[iv] The four Inuit comprehensive land claims agreements are intended to ensure that Inuit participate in decision-making regarding their traditional lands and resources. Furthermore, Inuit land claims agreements are also intended to ensure the social, cultural and economic welfare and objectives of Inuit are properly considered in resource decision-making by any government or decision-making body.[v] Inuit self-government is a term used by the Government of Canada to describe governments run by Inuit (as is the case in Nunatsiavut) where Inuit have “greater responsibility and control over the decision making that affects their communities”.[vi] What does Inuit self-government mean to you? Should it imply absolute (and not greater) Inuit control over governing matters? In the newsletter (and website) section called Sharing Storieswe provide a space for you to share your views on what this means. We look forward to hearing from you. As defined by the Government of Canada, self-government is:
“Negotiated arrangements that give Aboriginal people greater control over their own affairs, in areas such as health care, child welfare, education, housing, and economic development. The Government of Canada recognizes that Aboriginal peoples have an “inherent right of self-government” and has committed to negotiating self-government agreements with Aboriginal peoples”.[vii]
Self-government in Canada does not imply sovereignty in the sense of an independent government within a confined geographical territory. Self-government is:
“a right which is exercised within the framework of the Canadian Constitution, the inherent right will not lead to the automatic exclusion of federal and provincial laws, many of which will continue to apply to Aboriginal peoples or will co-exist alongside validly enacted Aboriginal laws..[viii]
Constitution Act, 1982
- The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
- In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
- For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.
- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.