Nunatsiavut Government demands Liberal MP's demotion over NunatuKavut comments

The Nunatsiavut Government in northern Labrador wants a Liberal MP demoted over "inaccurate comments" she made praising a court ruling concerning NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC).

Yvonne Jones, who represents Labrador in the House of Commons, was among those celebrating when a Federal Court judge this week dismissed an Innu Nation bid to cancel the federal government's memorandum of understanding with NCC.

Jones is one of NunatuKavut's 6,000 members who self-identify as Inuit in south and central Labrador. NCC's claims are disputed by Nunatsiavut and national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which don't recognize the group as an Inuit collective.

"Congratulations NunatuKavut on winning this historic and once again precedent setting court ruling that defines and recognizes the Rights," the MP wrote on social media.

"Now it's time to Recognize your legitimate and constitutional Rights of southern and central inuit of Labrador."

A Facebook post by MP Yvonne Jones, made on Wednesday evening.
A Facebook post by MP Yvonne Jones, made on Wednesday evening. (Yvonne Jones/Facebook)

Nunatsiavut, a self-governing Inuit body with a ratified modern treaty, issued a statement on Friday "to make it abundantly clear that the Federal Court very explicitly states that the NCC's section 35 status has not been established in law in this case, or in previous court cases."

Judge Cecily Y. Strickland held that "the MOU does not create, recognize or deny any legal or constitutional right or obligation" for either Canada or NCC.

Nunatsiavut president Johannes Lampe spoke at a news conference with the national housing advocate in Ottawa Monday.
Nunatsiavut president Johannes Lampe has accused NunatuKavut of appropriating Inuit culture and identity. (CBC)

"The MOU does not recognize the NCC as 'Aboriginal peoples of Canada' pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution," Strickland wrote.

"Rather, the MOU is a policy decision to engage in without-prejudice discussions with NCC. It is intended as an expression of goodwill and a political commitment to discussion."

Both NunatuKavut and Innu Nation, which comprises two First Nations in Labrador, declared victory based on differing interpretations of Strickland's decision.

Nunatsiavut, which acted as an intervenor in the case in support of the Innu, said it's "deeply concerned by the inaccurate comments" from Jones and demanded her removal from parliamentary secretary posts in Northern Affairs and Defence.

"Public officials are entrusted with the responsibility of acting with accountability, impartiality and within the rule of law," Nunatsiavut said in its statement.

"Nunatsiavut believes that Ms. Jones has not met these standards in her role as a member of parliament and a parliamentary secretary due to her public comments and actions to advance the agenda of the NCC."

Jones's MP office did not respond to emailed requests for comment on Friday.

Friction has history

NunatuKavut was previously known as the Labrador Métis Association and then the Labrador Métis Nation until 2010.

In 2004, Jones was the only member of the provincial legislature who voted against ratifying Nunatsiavut's modern treaty, the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement.

"The Métis people of Labrador have to be heard. They have to be safeguarded. Their rights, too, have to be proclaimed as Aboriginal people in Labrador," she told the legislature at the time.

The Innu Nation, meanwhile, has also taken issue with Jones after she called the Innu court challenge "misguided" in 2019.

In Thursday post of its own Innu Nation accused Jones of misleading the public and NCC members about what the court actually said.

A Facebook post by the Innu Nation, made Thursday evening.
A Facebook post by the Innu Nation, made Thursday evening. (Innu Nation/Facebook)

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the Innu Nation said, "The court has confirmed that NCC has no standing as an Indigenous people as the MOU is meaningless other than that it allows for a process to discuss the bogus claims."

NunatuKavut, however, praised the dismissal of the application as an unequivocal victory.

"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," said President Todd Russell in a statement.

Russell, a former Liberal MP for Labrador, has rejected allegations of identity theft as ludicrous and defamatory.

Jones tagged provincial and federal Liberals in her post, including Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree.

NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell thanked Furey for making a sincere apology, and hopes the words can be part of the healing for some.
NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell praised the decision and said he looks forward to the talks with Canada. (Jon Gaudi/CBC)

Anandasangaree was not made available for an interview but in a statement a spokesperson contradicted Jones's interpretation of the decision.

"The Federal Court affirmed that this MOU does not affect legal rights, impose legal obligations, or cause prejudicial effects to any of the parties involved in this litigation, and that the duty to consult was not triggered," wrote spokesperson Matthieu Perrotin.

The minister's office respects the decision and is reviewing it, Perrotin said, adding that the MOU aims to resolve outstanding questions about NunatuKavut's asserted rights.

"The MOU sets the priorities for the discussions, including better understanding rights that the NunatuKavut Community Council may hold, and discussions continue," he wrote.

Perrotin declined to comment on the demand for Jones's removal.

NunatuKavut has made four rejected land claim submissions under Canada's comprehensive land claims policy since 1991. In 2007, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal decision that found the group has "credible but unproven claim," to Indigenous rights, which is strong enough to trigger the Crown's duty to consult.