[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
First of all, thank you so much for inviting us. My counterparts Bruce Uviluq and Qilak Kusugak are experts: one is a lawyer to be, and the other one has been involved with IIBAs right across Nunavut. We are prepared to answer any technical questions, and we mean business.
Thank you for your invitation. If you need to go up to Iqaluit or Nunavut, ask Malaya Mikijuk.
Before we start, Grise Fiord is a community that has 24 hours of darkness for about four months of the year. A new teacher just went up there and he asked his class, “Are you Canadians?” Everybody put up their hands, except two little guys. The teacher got very agitated, went up to them, and said, “If you're not Canadians, what are you?” They said, “Toronto Maple Leafs”. So, you will remember Grise Fiord and 24 hours of darkness.
We welcome your study into how federally protected areas and conservation objectives should be developed and pursued, keeping in mind both domestic obligations and priorities and international dimensions.
As you know, Nunavut is on international boundaries with the Northwest Passage, and we're getting a lot of interest, especially with the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror being found. So there is a lot of international interest.
Protected areas and conservation objectives are nothing new to Inuit. Inuit have been protecting land and conserving wildlife long before these words were ever invented. Their lives depended on it, and still do to this day, and that's the reason we were nomads.
We have inukshuks. Those inukshuks can direct wildlife where we want them to go, we can find fish where we want to find fish, and we can measure the islands, from the islands to the fish.
Before Inuit moved into settlements, entire families used to move to other areas for long periods of time so that the land and wildlife could recover. That's the reason we were nomads. The hunting shelters—igloos, as you say today—are just hunting shelters. The living headquarters Inuit occupied were called qagiit, and they were bigger than the size of this room. I've seen them in my lifetime. When Nunavut was formed in 1999, the experts wanted to show us how big the qagiits were.
This work, your work, is so important, particularly in Nunavut, which has 20% of Canada's land mass and 40% of Canada's coast. For any federal initiatives in relation to these matters, particularly the creation of a new network of marine protected areas, to be successful the Nunavut portions have to be worked out properly.
Let me begin with a few words about our organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., or NTI.
We are a not-for-profit federally incorporated company answerable to the Inuit of Nunavut. We're the organization that, across Canada, asked for the division of the territory.
We represent Nunavut Inuit for all purposes associated with the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement that we signed with the crown in right of Canada in 1993, and it's not just with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, INAC, but with the whole of government: fisheries, INAC, foreign affairs. It's a constitutional agreement.
The Nunavut agreement is a bedrock feature of our larger and ongoing relationship with the crown and, through the crown, with Canada as a whole. It is a modern-day treaty agreement, but the Inuit-crown relationship is a valuable one: we are proud of being both Inuit and Canadian. First Canadians, and Canadians first. That is the term one of our leaders, Qilak's uncle, mentioned.
Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes the Nunavut agreement as a modern treaty or a land claim agreement. Alongside the constitutional status and protection of our agreement, subsections 2.12.2 and 2.12.3 of our agreement provide that our agreement prevails over any contrary federal laws, that the paramountcy of our agreement extends to all federal legislation, and this applies to Nunavut fisheries, oceans, resource management, and the like.
In addition to our treaty rights, Inuit have retained aboriginal rights in matters not governed by the Nunavut agreement. The Nunavut agreement, in the first preamble, says that we, the Inuit, hold sovereignty over Canada. We demanded it, we wanted it in the agreement, and it is in there. Ours is the only constitutional treaty agreement that mentions sovereignty.
Our responsibility at NTI is to ensure that the Nunavut agreement is respected and implemented. We take that responsibility very seriously. We do our best to carry out that responsibility. We have taken part in developing legislation to better implement the Nunavut agreement, and we have been willing to make amendments to the agreement when there is mutual value at stake.
I would point to the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act. These two acts have strengthened resource management and conservation structures and processes. It is always nice to report success.
On the other side of the ledger, I regret to report that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard have for many years blocked our overtures to work out comprehensive new fishery regulations that would have a direct and lasting conservation pay-off while offering full respect for Inuit rights. We live in hope that the federal government now in office will devote the focus and energy to chart a new course on that work.
The area governed by the Nunavut agreement includes all the marine areas between and adjacent to the islands and coasts of the eastern and central Arctic. Inuit are a primarily maritime people, and our use and occupation of marine areas has been as geographically extensive and as economically important, as is the case with land areas.
The Nunavut agreement has 42 articles, with well-defined rights and obligations. One part of the agreement, article 4, provides for the creation of the territory and Government of Nunavut.
On Inuit impact and benefit agreements, another distinctive part of the Nunavut agreement is in relation to parks and conservation areas, articles 8 and 9. These articles have a number of features that are of direct relevance to any initiative for the establishment of new marine protected areas in Nunavut. They require the negotiation of Inuit impact and benefit agreements, IIBAs, prior to the establishment of any new protected area in Nunavut.
I want to emphasize that point. Inuit and federal government representatives will have to negotiate and conclude IIBAs before any new protected areas or other forms of conservation areas or parks are created anywhere in Nunavut.
Negotiations of new IIBAs will not take place in a vacuum. Fortunately the Nunavut agreement provides detailed guidance on the expected contents of IIBAs.