POLITICS

Nunavut to begin devolution talks

05/23/2012 10:15 EDT | Updated 07/23/2012 05:12 EDT

The federal government has named a chief federal negotiator to lead devolution talks with Nunavut.

Just over a year ago as the Northwest Territories was close to signing a devolution agreement-in-principle, John Duncan, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, said Nunavut was not ready.

Now Duncan has appointed Dale Drown, a long-time political staffer who has worked in Saskatchewan and B.C. and was also chief of staff to former Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie, as chief federal negotiator.

David Akeeagok, deputy minister of Environment, will negotiate for the Nunavut government.

"I will work hard for Nunavummiut in negotiating devolution for our territory and reclaiming our self-reliance," said Akeeagok.

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak says devolution — the handing over of some province-like powers to a territory by the federal government — has always been a top priority. A deal would mean Nunavut would take more control over natural resources presently being managed by the federal government and Aariak says that would help make Nunavut more self-reliant.

"I have been persistent in approaching my counterparts, Prime Minister Harper and Minister Duncan, and every time I meet with them, this is a subject matter I never miss," she said.

Under the N.W.T. deal, which is opposed by many of the region's aboriginal leaders, that territory will receive 50 per cent of resource royalties up to the equivalent of five per cent of its overall expenditures. Royalties over the five per cent level will be clawed back from the territory's total federal grant.

The Nunavut Land Claim gave Inuit surface and subsurface rights to an amount of land roughly equal in size to Germany. Royalties from those lands are already starting to flow to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and are expected to total hundreds of millions of dollars over the next generation.

However, that money is expected to be used to benefit Inuit, not to pay for programs and infrastructure for the territory as a whole.

In 2007, a paper commissioned by the federal government advised against transferring control over lands and resources to the government of Nunavut, concluding that the territorial administration didn't have the staff or the skills to do the job.

Aariak said Tuesday those concerns are no longer relevant. She pointed out that Ottawa has agreed to help Nunavut develop its management capacity in tandem with the negotiations, and that the territory has a larger reservoir of trained Inuit than it did five years ago.

How long the talks will take, or when they will begin, is not known. It took Yukon more than eight years to negotiate a deal and 10 years for N.W.T. to negotiate an agreement-in-principle.

But Aariak said she is hopeful that with fewer people involved in the negotiations in Nunavut, the process won't take as long.