‘We know who we are’: Inuit row raises questions over identity and ancestry

1 year ago 166

For centuries, Inuit successful Canada person thrived successful the sprawling territory known arsenic Inuit Nunangat – the homeland – which stretches from a bladed sliver of onshore successful the Yukon territory to bluish Labrador, a immense domain much than 3.3m sq km (1.2m sq miles) successful size.

“Inuit person agelong understood wherever our communities are, who belongs to our communities, and person fought implicit the past 50 years to make modern treaties that place these circumstantial homelands,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a radical that represents the 4 main Inuit regions.

But a caller group, whose members hint their lineage to Inuit who lived successful Labrador and intermarried with assemblage settlers, person analyzable that narrative.

Two years ago, the NunatuKavut assemblage assembly signed a memorandum of knowing with Canada’s national authorities that established their Inuit identity, efficaciously laying the groundwork for myriad benefits and paving the mode for aboriginal negotiations implicit onshore claims. Controversially, their claimed territory lies extracurricular the borders of Inuit Nunangat.

Canada’s largest Inuit enactment has rejected the claims arsenic “fraudulent” and in a caller letter called connected the premier minister, Justin Trudeau, to halt each negotiations with the group. The escalating enactment has raised thorny questions implicit identity, ancestry – and who speaks for Indigenous peoples.


The 6,000 members of NCC unrecorded successful the rocky, coastal portion of confederate Labrador. While astir person mislaid their transportation to the Inuktitut language, they nevertheless assertion a beardown taste necktie to the region, defined by taste protocols, an accent connected kinship ties and a heavy transportation to the land, said Debbie Martin, a prof astatine Dalhousie University and a subordinate of the NunatuKavut.

“I’ve studied and tried to recognize wherefore our radical person ne'er had their rights recognized,” she said, adding that residents person “never wavered successful their heavy and lasting ancestral ties to the territory”.

The group’s website chronicles a past of trading, warfare, peace, colonialism and revitalization. “We cognize who we are and what we’ve accomplished. Our Inuit rights are protected and enshrined successful the constitution of Canada. All of america indispensable respect and honour these rights.”

But the 2 Indigenous groups successful the area, the Nunatsiavut authorities and the Innu Nation, some cull NunatuKavut’s claim.

Obed said his interest was not with immoderate 1 individual’s assertion to Inuit ancestry. Instead, helium disquieted that NunatuKavut identifies arsenic an Inuit corporate – adjacent though nary different Inuit enactment has validated those claims.

“We are rather acrophobic astir the quality for a recently formed corporate to past request rights and compensation and overlapping claims for areas that person been identified Inuit lands nether modern treaties,” said Obed, who represents much than 65,000 Inuit successful Canada.

Pedestrians locomotion  on  a snow-covered roadworthy  successful  Nain, Labrador.
Pedestrians locomotion on a snow-covered roadworthy successful Nain, Labrador. Photograph: Darren Calabrese

Under Canada’s constitution, Indigenous groups person the close to self-govern and participate into negotiations with the national authorities implicit onshore claims. But Obed fears the government’s designation of NunatuKavut could weaken the negotiating authorization of established Inuit groups.

“[Inuit] person been present passim and we instrumentality it upon ourselves to self-determine who is simply a portion of our community. And that’s wherefore we’ve made the determination to talk publically astir our presumption connected the NCC,” said Obed.

His comments item different complicating origin successful the feud: determination is nary ceremonial arbiter successful Canada implicit who is rightfully granted Indigenous presumption arsenic a collective, and who gets to talk for those groups.

Similar frictions person emerged successful in occidental Canada, wherever successful immoderate communities, set councils and hereditary chiefs person taken contradictory stances implicit pipeline projects.

Also astatine contented is the increasing fig of radical identifying arsenic Métis, and trace their ancestry to some Indigenous radical and European settlers successful the Prairie region. Some specified groups person faced allegations they are appropriating Indigenous identity.

Critics of the NunatuKavut constituent retired that successful 2010, it changed its sanction from the Labrador Métis Council. NunatuKavut, which has been an enactment since the 1980s, says the word Métis was utilized for a lineage of some Indigenous and settler ancestry – but that Inuit present amended reflects their membership.

Others stay skeptical.

“What we’re seeing is the improvement of non-Indigenous people, oregon those with a precise distant ancestry – from the 1600 and 1700s – present claiming that they present person governmental rights which prevail implicit those Indigenous nations,” said Veldon Coburn, a prof successful Indigenous studies astatine the University of Ottawa and subordinate of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn.

“And they usage the thought of ‘Indigenous self-determination’ arsenic a bulwark against immoderate extracurricular criticism. They’ve adopted the rhetoric and truthful thing tin pierce that shield.”

Last week, NunatuKavut issued a connection calling Obed’s missive to Trudeau “appalling and repulsive”.

For the community’s members, disapproval of the radical has prompted vexation that their claims are being formed aside.

“It’s disheartening that ITK would consciousness arsenic though its mandate is to measure and find the individuality of a corporate of Indigenous radical located successful Labrador,” said Martin. “Their mandate is to advocator for the rights of Inuit to the national government– not to find who is Inuit and who is not.”

Martin, who says scholarship by historians and anthropologists supports the NCC claims, sees nary crushed they should undermine different Inuit rights.

“As idiosyncratic who has a wide and chiseled transportation to the territory … [the criticism] feels similar a idiosyncratic onslaught connected my ain identity. I would ne'er assertion an individuality if I didn’t consciousness comfy and assured successful doing so,” said Martin. “I would emotion to beforehand Inuit rights crossed Canada. But it is hard to bash truthful erstwhile there’s nary acknowledgment of my existence.”

For Obed, the enactment represents a antithetic situation to existence.

“When governments person made decisions that negatively interaction our Indigenous communities, we arsenic Indigenous radical are the ones that are often near trying to asseverate our identity,” helium said.

“The national authorities has played an arbitrating relation successful defining Indigenous collectives – thing that rightly belongs with First Nations, Inuit and Metis. We are going to person to enactment with that reality. But we besides are going to person to unravel the consequences of that world for immoderate time.”