NCC and Innu Nation both claim victory as judge dismisses court challenge

NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell was at this the ongoing National Search and Rescue Conference to push for further support in Labrador.
Todd Russell, NunatuKavut Community Council president, says the court decision vindicates the group. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC)

NunatuKavut Community Council is celebrating a victory after a judge dismissed a challenge to have an agreement it signed with the federal government thrown out.

So too is the Innu Nation, which had argued the agreement gave federal recognition to a group it considers to be illegitimate.

On Wednesday, Judge Cecily Y. Strickland rejected the Innu Nation's application for judicial review of a contested memorandum of understanding between the federal government and the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) that was signed in 2019.

In her decision, Strickland said the agreement does not actually recognize NCC as having Indigenous rights.

"I agree with NCC that there is no direct link or causal connection between the Crown conduct, the entering into the MOU, and any possible adverse impacts to the applicant's Section 35 Rights," she wrote.

Strickland also said the Innu Nation will have to pay the NCC's costs.

In a statement, NCC called the win "unequivocal" and that it can continue with its recognition of Indigenous rights and self-determination process without other Indigenous groups or the court interfering.

"This is a very important and significant day for NCC and NunatuKavut Inuit. We have been vindicated," president Todd Russell said in the statement.

"This is particularly so as this court case has been used as part of a targeted and violent misinformation campaign against NCC and our people by Innu Nation and Nunatsiavut Government."

The NCC — formerly the Labrador Métis Association and the Labrador Métis Nation — represents 6,000 self-identifying Inuit in south and central Labrador.

The group is not recognized by the national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, nor Nunatsiavut, the Inuit government in Labrador.

Russell said he's looking forward to continuing negotiations with the federal government and advancing the group's rights and recognition.

In the 2019 MOU, the Trudeau government described NCC as an Indigenous collective capable of holding Indigenous rights under section 35 of Canada's Constitution.

Strickland wrote the MOU was an "expression of good will and political commitment and does not create, recognize or deny any legal or constitutional right or obligation on the part of either party."

Innu Nation fires back

The Innu Nation, which is made up of two First Nations communities in Labrador, also said Strickland's decision is a win.

In a statement, the group argued Strickland's decision affirmed its stance that the NCC isn't recognized as an Indigenous collective capable of holding Indigenous rights under section 35 of Canada's Constitution.

"It's no surprise that in the wake of the court confirming that NCC has never been recognized as an Aboriginal people that holds s. 35 rights, that NCC continues to promote its own false narrative," said the statement.

In the statement, the Innu Nation focused on Strickland writing that the MOU didn't recognize NCC as an Indigenous group but that it "allows for a process to discuss the bogus claims."

"Innu Nation is deeply frustrated that we have had to waste time and resources to confirm this but are extremely grateful for this legal clarification on NCC's standing as an Indigenous people."

The statement said Innu Nation is reviewing the decision and will comment further at a later date.

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