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Wheels of devolution begin to turn

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 4, 2012

Nunavut's road to devolution has reached a milestone, as lead negotiators have been appointed on both sides of the deal.

David Akeeagok has been named the territorial government's lead negotiator, and the federal government has appointed Dale Drown as the chief federal negotiator.

Akeeagok is the territory's deputy minister of environment, and will continue in that role while negotiating devolution. Drown is the former chief of staff of Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie and is currently the executive director of the Metis Nation British Columbia.

Devolution is the transfer of the right to pass laws regarding the management of land and natural resources to the territorial government. Ottawa currently controls 80 per cent of Nunavut lands. In 2008, the territorial and federal governments, as well as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. signed a negotiation protocol agreement.

Premier Eva Aariak said on May 22 she was "delighted" with Drown's appointment, which was announced May 18, calling it a "major step forward" in the territorial government's efforts to achieve devolution.

"With the world looking at Nunavut from all sides, in terms of resource development and so on, I think it is so very timely that we start this process for the interest of the people that live in Nunavut," she said. "I am hoping to see the negotiations starting as soon as possible."

Aariak explained the federal and territorial governments as well as NTI will plan how they will move forward with the negotiations to ultimately start them.

Akeeagok is a former deputy minister of both community and government services as well as culture, language, elders and youth. Akeeagok was also the GN chief negotiator on the implementation contract for the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

"I am honoured the premier has confidence in my ability to lead this very important file," he said. "I will work hard for Nunavummiut in the negotiating devolution for the territory and reclaiming our self-reliance."

The Yukon's devolution negotiations lasted seven years and the NWT reached an agreement-in-principle last year after nearly a decade of negotiations. Aariak said she hopes Nunavut's devolution negotiations will proceed faster.

"We have the other two territories immersed into that and I know there are best practices we can learn from and some areas we may not want to repeat from the previous experiences by other territories," she said.

As Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. represents all Inuit in Nunavut, negotiations will involve a single Inuit organization, she added. This compares to the NWT, which has seven different aboriginal groups it is trying to bring to the table - only three have signed on, and one of the other four has launched a lawsuit against the Government of the Northwest Territories on the basis they weren't adequately consulted throughout the process leading up to the agreement-in-principle.

NTI president Cathy Towtongie stated in a press release she was pleased in the appointments for Nunavut's negotiations.

"It is vital to the future of Nunavut," stated Towtongie in a press release. "David (Akeeagok) is very capable and I am confident he will make sure Nunavut's interests are protected in this process."

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