HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY – NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) president Todd Russell was still in the witness chair at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, when the lawyer for the Innu Nation reiterated the Innu Nation does not recognize Russell or NCC members as Indigenous people within Canada.
“The Innu Nation’s position is the Nunatukavut Community Council is not an Indigenous people,” said lawyer Senwung Luk to Commissioner Richard LeBlanc.
Luk said he is reserving the right to cross-examine Russell when Russell is recalled later to testify in the inquiry.
Russell, representing Inuit of Southern Labrador, and other Indigenous witnesses will speaki again in October around Indigenous consultations and the hydro project on the Churchill River.
The time in this first appearance was meant to be about historical use of the river and use of the area around what is now the hydro dam site at Muskrat Falls.
Immediately following Luk’s comments, NCC lawyer Jason Cooke stood to address the commissioner. “I did want to note for the record any suggestion my clients are not Indigenous people is not only offensive, it has already been dealt with by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal,” he said, adding there is also recognition by municipal, provincial and federal governments.
For his part, LeBlanc said more than once he will not be dealing with land disputes.
“As I made very clear earlier to all parties … I’m not resolving land claims of any nature,” he said, earlier in the afternoon, as Russell was talking about area where the NCC would have historical ties.
Following the session, Russell told reporters that the comments from the Innu Nation were doing a disservice to the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
“It’s offensive. It’s personally offensive to me. It’s offensive to all of the people that I represent. It is not factual. It is a lie,” he said.
The Innu Nation had previously issued a statement calling the NCC illegitimate, following an announcement in July that the federal government has entered into exploratory talks with the NCC. Federal minister responsible for Crown-Indigenous relationships, Carolyn Bennett, took part in the announcement.
Russell said there is acknowledgement by the Government of Canada for the people of NunatuKavut and “a rights recognition and self-determination process” is ongoing, with an acknowledgement for the NCC from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador they will join negotiations in due course.