05/04/2015 12:32 EDT | Updated 05/04/2016 05:12 EDT

Ottawa To Pay Nunavut More Than $250 Million In Settlement


IQALUIT, Nunavut - Ottawa is to pay an Inuit land-claim group more than $250 million to settle a long-standing lawsuit and improve training for Inuit to enter the territorial civil service.

The payment is included in a previously announced deal for more than $300 million that ends a nine-year-old claim against the federal government by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the group that oversees the Nunavut land claim.

"There's a lot of interest in the Arctic now and we have a large, untrained Inuit work force," Cathy Towtongie, NTI president, said Monday. "We have to deal with that situation now."

The land claim guaranteed that Inuit would hold the same percentage of jobs in the territorial government that they do in the general population — about 85 per cent. But they have never held close to that number. The level has been stuck at about 50 per cent for years.

A conciliator's report concluded in 2005 that the reason has been Ottawa's consistent underfunding of education in the territory. Retired justice Thomas Berger found that underfunding has resulted in graduates that are literate in neither English nor Inuktitut. He recommended a bilingual education program paid for through an extra $20 million a year from the federal government.

NTI filed its lawsuit, claiming $1 billion in damages, after the report's release. That was based on wages the group said the Inuit could have earned from their share of government jobs if they'd been educated well enough to fill them.

About $175 million of the settlement is to go into a fund to provide Inuit with necessary job skills. That money is to be controlled by NTI and the territorial government.

It could fund a repeat of a program to train Inuit lawyers, said Towtongie. It could also fund programs in the trades or in skills such as accounting. The federal government is to pay for a labour market analysis on what kind of training is needed.

The fund is not to be used to upgrade Nunavut's overall education system.

"The hope is that this $175 million can be used to supplement some things in the education system, but it's not intended to replace the (territorial government's) obligation," Towtongie said.

The Nunavut government is separately pursuing more federal money to upgrade education and make it more bilingual, said culture and heritage deputy minister Joe Kunuk.

Kunuk said the territory is already implementing some measures to improve education in Inuktitut, such as standardizing curriculum and moving toward making the written language consistent.

Another $80 million is to go into a trust fund administered by NTI. It is to be used to fund anything from business development to social programs such as suicide prevention.

Ottawa has also promised another $50 million over eight years to fund further training programs. The agreement also includes promises of higher funding for wildlife management and planning organizations.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Joe Kunuk was deputy education minister.