Report to the
Canadian Human Rights Commission on the
Treatment of the Innu of Labrador by the Government of Canada



Direct Negotiations with the Innu in Respect of Self-Government

The 1993 Report recommended that the Government "enter into direct negotiations with the Innu in respect of self-government and for the devolution of programs and services, involving the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador where appropriate in accordance with the principle of mutual consent set out in the September 1989 Policy Statement on Indian Self-Government in Canada."

The 1994 Statement of Political Commitments indicated that negotiations on self-government would proceed "between the Government of Canada, the Innu Nation and their communities, and, where appropriate, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador." In fact, negotiations on self-government did commence, although the negotiations were essentially trilateral between the Government, the Innu and the Province. "Where appropriate," it turned out, was "all the time." Nevertheless, progress was made on self-government negotiations.

However, the self-government negotiations that commenced in 1997 came to a halt in October 2000 and have now been postponed indefinitely. Both parties appear to believe that the negotiations halted because the other party was unable to maintain negotiations on so many different tracks (registration, land claims, health issues, relocation). What registration has done, however, is set the Innu on a different track from self-government. The Indian Act will now provide the governing structure for the Innu — a structure that any self-government negotiations in the future will have to dismantle.

Placing self-government negotiations in abeyance has implications for land claims negotiations. Land and a financial package are only part of any final settlement. The institutions to give effect to a comprehensive land settlement have to be elaborated through self-government negotiations. This is cause for concern among the Innu, who continue to have reservations about the halting of self-government discussions. In their view, there is no reason why self-government issues cannot be negotiated simultaneously with the other matters under discussion. It is their view that negotiations based on the inherent right to self-government should take place in tandem with registration and reserve creation.

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In contrast, federal officials believe they are following the normal process for registration. If registration leading to the granting of status and the creation of reserves is to occur, then there are certain steps to be taken and things to be done. These must be done as a first step before moving to the further step of self-government. Federal officials take the view that the experience and expertise gained from the creation and operation of the institutions required for status Indians living on reserve will help the Innu build expertise for eventually taking over self-government responsibilities. They also consider that although the Innu appear to have a vision of what they want, it is not clear that they have yet developed a long-term, sustainable plan for self-government.

Thus self-government negotiations appear to be in abeyance, not abandoned. Federal officials consider that the Government has committed itself to negotiating self-government for the Innu. The 1994 Statement of Political Commitments provided that the Government was prepared to negotiate "to devolve existing federal programs and funding delivered to the Innu, and to work with the Province to devolve such programs and funds administered under existing federal-provincial agreements for the provision of services to the Innu in a manner consistent with Canada’s current devolution policy..." Although that commitment contemplated all of this being done "prior to the expiration of the present Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Agreement," the commitment appears to remain.

The Innu express concern that even when negotiations resume, the Government’s view of self-government will be far too limited. They consider that to the Government self-government means a status akin to that of a town council, rather than true governance that recognizes the Innu’s independence as Innu people within Labrador.

Furthermore, we did not detect any degree of urgency by federal officials to recommence self-government negotiations. In part, they consider it to be up to the Innu to make a request to restart such negotiations. However, it did not seem that any such request would receive a very favourable federal response. Some federal officials take the view that self-government negotiations have to await progress on land claims negotiations. Moreover, the general view we heard from federal officials is that they consider that the Innu need experience operating under the Indian Act before embarking on self-government.


Although the Government did enter into self-government negotiations with the Innu as proposed in the third recommendation in the 1993 Report, placing those negotiations in abeyance with no plan for recommencing them means that the third recommendation of the 1993 Report has not been implemented.

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The Relocation of the Mushuau Innu

The 1993 Report recommended that the Government "make a commitment to the expeditious relocation of the Mushuau Innu to a site chosen by them."

Details of the relocation of the Mushuau Innu in 1967 from the mainland to the site of the present village of Davis Inlet on Iluikoyak Island, the lack of running water and sewage facilities, the substandard conditions of the houses, the isolation from traditional caribou hunting grounds and the associated community dysfunction were set out in the 1993 Report. The conditions were later described in the Report on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples as akin to conditions in the poorest of developing countries.36 Fatal fires, suicides, substandard living conditions, substance abuse and poor health brought the community to national and international attention and continue to do so.

On 8 June 1993 the Mushuau Innu voted overwhelmingly in favour of relocation to Little Sango Pond (Natuashish), which is located on the mainland of Labrador 15 kilometres from their current island site at Davis Inlet. The 1994 Statement of Political Commitments endorsed relocation, stating that the Government was prepared to "support relocation of the Mushuau Innu to Little Sango Pond."

There were, however, several conditions attached to the Government’s commitment. The Innu were to adopt "a long-term social and economic reconstruction plan to address the social pathologies and high unemployment levels in the community, following discussions with and agreement by Canada." Following the adoption of the plan, there was to be "reaffirmation of the new site through completion of a formal ratification process by the Innu people of Utshimasits."

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The Innu prepared and submitted the necessary socio-economic and technical studies to DIAND, and by December 1995 brought forward a social reconstruction plan that identified 131 intended initiatives. These included projects on Innu culture, health and social services, education and training, justice, and traditional and non-traditional economies. The requisite ratification vote was held within the Davis Inlet community in the early fall of 1996, and it resulted in an overwhelming 97% vote in support of the relocation to Natuashish.

The Statement of Political Commitments had set out further conditions for relocation. These included the following:

Proof through the conduct of technical studies that the relocation site is capable of providing sufficient fresh water and other essential amenities to the community into the future.

Provision of the necessary land by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Environmental acceptability of the site, as demonstrated by the satisfactory completion of any required environmental assessment processes.

Construction and site development to appropriate federal and provincial government standards.

Reasonable costs that are acceptable to Canada.

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By the end of 1996, it appeared that all of these conditions had been met. In November of that year the Mushuau Innu Relocation Agreement (MIRA) was entered into by the Government, the Province and the Mushuau Innu Band Council. The Province agreed to provide the land for the new community site through a 20-year renewable lease, with the potential of a future transfer of land to the Innu. The Government agreed to provide funding for relocation planning, design and construction at an estimated cost of $82 million. It anticipated that the money would cover the cost of wood frame houses, water and sewer systems, roads, power station, school, nursing station, airport, wharf, post office, band council office, police and fire facilities, moving expenses and the decommissioning of the old Davis Inlet site.

The MIRA contemplated that the construction of the new community would take place over a period of five years and would be completed in the fall of 2001. A Mushuau Innu Relocation Committee was established to provide Innu input into the project. Under the terms of MIRA, the goal was to involve Innu in the construction, and to provide employment and training opportunities.

The community being built at Natuashish is impressive and ambitious. Once it is completed, the Mushuau Innu will have a community that is as modern as any contemporary community in Canada. At the physical level, the difference between the new community of Natuashish and the old community of Davis Inlet is simply overwhelming. However, the project has not met the fall 2001 deadline and current federal estimates are that it will not be completed before December 2002. There are many who have doubts about whether the project will be completed even on this schedule. Some suggest that the year 2003 is more realistic. Others speculate that the community may need to move in stages, with relocation of part of the community initially and the remainder later. At the time of the conclusion of this report, it was still unclear whether there would be any move in 2002.

The project has been beset by difficulties, some relating to the problems associated with construction on that scale in the physical conditions of northern Labrador, and others relating to financing and management of the project, the involvement of Innu in it, and the economic and social aspects of relocation.

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  Last Modified: 12/27/2002 3:53:41 PM    
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