Todd Russell has taken the presidency seat in NunatuKavut Community Council for the second time.
Mr. Russell's only competitor – incu,mbent Christ Montague – withdrew from the race ten days before election votes were to be cast.
Mr. Russell then took the position by acclamation on April 20 and officially took to office on May 1, 2012.
The NCC currently represents over 3,000 members of Inuit-European ancestry in the areas throughout Western, Central, and southern communities across Labrador.
“I am very excited and I am very honored that the people have seemed to put their confidence in me again to represent the people of NunatuKavut for the next four years,” Mr. Russell told the Labradorian last Tuesday.
“People are energetic again - they want to get involved and they see the potential and the promise for this organization.”
Mr. Russell said it was encouraging to see the numbers on the nomination lists and voter turnouts during election time and stated it was a reflected a ‘revitalization’ within the NCC membership. “ We have all of our people ready to fight the fight for our rights and interests.”
Five youth ran for a position as youth council representative in this years election.
“It was very uplifting to see that and it bodes very well for our organization that the youth are so interested in wanting to be apart of going forward.”
The NCC president said his role while in office will involve working with Council to ensure a number of issues and concerns are put at the forefront.
One being the NCC’s Land Claim – outlining the historical, genealogical land use and occupancy of the Inuit descendents within Labrador. The most updated submission was sent to the Federal Government in May of 2010.
“Our land claim has been in the works now for over two decades. I think it’s about time the Federal Government go through its process and that we would sit at a negotiating table to define our rights and interests and to articulate clearly our particular position within Labrador- our relationship to other aboriginal groups and to all citizens within Labrador.”
Mr. Russell added that efforts would also entail greater dissemination of the basis of the land claim document regarding the Treaty of 1765, which was also outlined as a goal in the 2011-2014 NCC strategic plan.
“We’re going to be pushing our Treaty Rights, encouraging the Federal and Provincial Government to recognize this as a legal document, to uphold the honor of the crown and to engage with us in that process,” stated Mr. Russell.
“Fundamentally, our land claims and our treaty rights have to be respected and we are going to push very hard on that.”
Mr. Russell also says NCC will be firm in seeking consultations regarding the Lower Churchill project whether the generation project or the transmission project.
“To date we have not been respected we have not been included,” said Mr. Russell. “I will repeat a simple message: we invite cooperation and welcome negotiations, but make no mistake, that we will do what ever is in our power to protect our rights and interest when it comes to the Lower Churchill projects.”
While Mr. Russell says he hopes that groups will cooperate and sit at the table it would be unfortunate if the government decides to disregard the NCC and says the organization will challenge the parties involved whether through political, legal or on the ground action.
“This is a message that goes to all companies, all proponents that want to undertake resource developments on our lands.”
Mr. Russell says the NCC will also continue to move forward with talks with mining companies in the land claims area and added the same message will apply to resource developers. In February the NunatuKavut Government entered into their first co-operation agreement with mining company - Labrador Iron Mines Holding Ltd. The co-operation agreement ‘sets out the basic understandings and positions of each party’ including meaningful consultation in relation to matters such as environmental and cultural protection, jobs, training, aboriginal contracting and ‘other financial aspects.’
“Some have been very good others have been very reluctant but to those who have been reluctant and those who have not seen fit to engage with us the message is still clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our rights and interests to make sure that we are respected and involved in resource developments that happen on our lands.”
In addition, Mr. Russell says hunting and harvesting rights of the membership would be examined including a sustainable food fishery, negotiation of a caribou harvesting agreement in the province, expansion of the Aboriginal food fishery into the Lake Melville area, and dealing with matters outstanding in the judicial court system involving hunting related charges involving 20 of its members.
“Whether it’s caribou or whether its fish, our people need to have the comfort and the security to go out there and to harvest resources on the land for food, social and ceremonial purposes without fear of prosecution.” Mr. Russell said while the NCC respects conservation as the highest law, after conservation the rights of Aboriginal people to harvest what is sustainable for the community has to also be respected.
In relation to recent concerns involving the closure of the commercial crab plant in St. Lewis, Labrador, Mr. Russell says the NCC has indicated that they are willing to work with additional supports to ensure that employment strategies and other alternatives are looked at for the community.
Mr. Russell met with the community on the day of the announcement from the company that were operating the plant and said the community has since been experiencing a difficult time as the commercial fishery remains the backbone of many of the southern coastal communities. “We have an obligation as an organization to assist and we will where required,” Mr. Russell told the Labradorian.
“If that means advocating for policies that keep our resources in Labrador, for the people of our coastal communities, that’s what we will have to do and if we have to fight for more quotas, or more programs to help our people.”
Mr. Russell says priorities of the NCC will also include looking of ways to expand benefits to the membership including health and education services and access to housing.
“While we fight for these larger issues like land claims and treaty rights and becoming involved in resource development agreements we have to be very sensitive to the needs of our people and listen very intently to what our membership is telling us.”