Duane Smith remembers that he was either just finishing college or starting to pay it off on the oil rigs when the Inuvialuit Final Agreement was signed June 5, 1984.

Duane Smith, president of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, says too much emphasis is put on the term “self-government,” when in fact the Inuvialuit are basically already self-governing. The IRC has created a new website to educate people about the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed 33 years ago.
Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

“That’s how I paid my way through school,” remembers Smith, now president of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, about the artificial island he worked on as a young man.

The IRC is commemorating 33 years of the agreement with a new IFA-101 website to help inform people about the agreement, its nuances and its importance.

Inuit across Canada had been lobbying for recognition and rights back in the 1970s with a goal to create a territory for Inuit. But because exploration in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region was progressing so quickly, a decision had to be made about whether the Inuvialuit should stay with the Inuit and pursue a territorial process of self-governance or separate and pursue a much more rapid final agreement.

Smith said the pace the Inuit in the east were going at didn’t recognize the dire situation taking place in the Beaufort Delta. At that time, the Committee for the Original Peoples Entitlement polled Inuvialuit households and found approximately 86 per cent in favour of separating and pursue a unique land claim.

“That was very clear direction from the Inuvialuit people, saying unfortunately we can’t wait for this broader Inuit agreement that might take another 20 years, because we’re being too impacted in our region right now,” said Smith.

It took roughly another decade for the Inuvialuit Final Agreement to be signed.

The agreement between the Government of Canada and the Inuvialuit was the first comprehensive land claim agreement signed north of the 60th parallel and the second in Canada at the time. Inuvialuit agreed to give up their exclusive use of their lands in exchange for rights in terms of land, wildlife management and money. It also spurred the creation of the IRC as a hub organization for the many arms of the new Inuvialuit empire.

Education is one of the primary ways the agreement has benefited Inuvialuit, said Smith.

“I think the last count we had was 83 post-grad students that we’re supporting as we speak,” he said. “It just continues to increase. The organization has made a commitment to investing more into our education foundation to provide more and better support to our beneficiaries, whatever age they are. We are looked upon as the driving force in regards to stimulating anything that goes on in the region. Outside of the government, we’re probably the biggest organization here.”

Smith said he can’t speak for the 6,000 or so Inuvialuit people but hopes that the IFA has improved their lives. At the very least, it has given them recognition of their identity, culture and history.

“It also recognizes us as First Canadians and how we work together with Canada to make this place even better than it can be,” he said.

But not everyone was in favour of the agreement.

Jerry Inglanasuk, chair of the Inuvik Community Corporation, was protesting the IFA when it was signed.

“I was against it because it gave away too much land,” he said.

Now, though, he’s happy with the power it’s given Inuvialuit people.

“We have the best land claim,” he said. “I’ve been to lots of places. We’re the only land claim that co-manages with Canada. I still think we gave too much land away, but I work with it now and I think it’s the best land claim there is.”

In addition to the new website, the IRC is looking to create a guidebook on the IFA. This would help smooth over issues that often come up with government staff who are not familiar with some of the rights and processes entitled to Inuvialuit. One that often gets overlooked is in procurement, said Smith, when Inuvialuit sometimes have a right to first opportunities before the public.

As for what’s next, Smith said too much emphasis is put on the term self-government, as the IRC already operates as a government.

“You look at what we’re doing today… we are delivering services, we are delivering programs, we are self-governing already,” said Smith.

“We’re recognized by the federal government as a government already. Self-government is just another phase in areas that we may consider pursuing in the future – taking on added programs, services, issues that we feel that we could either do a better job or something new that might be coming along in government programs that we want to take over and manage ourselves.”

The new website is available at www.ifa101.com.

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