Permanence and Change

Hugh Brody

THE LABRADOR COAST, LIKE all other inhabited lands, has witnessed a great and complex flow of social orders. Groups of individuals have arrived, paused, moved on, died away; societies have developed their specialized techniques and institutions, now in one part of the country, now in another; distinct cultures have appeared and, even in comparatively small areas, have molded distinctive types of personality so surely as to make differences between near neighbours a vital part of their respective lives. Perpetual change, adjustment, and movement-inevitable aspects of human society-have been recognized by every succeeding generation, as it marks its losses and gains.

Yet, at any given time, there is a local sense of continuity: individuals identify with others whom they regard as very much like themselves. Societies have a form that seems always to reach back into a past that had real stability. These senses of identity and stability are strongly felt and upheld- indeed, they are cited in all struggles against submersion or destruction by another society that is seen as different. And these continuities are often so much a part of a society's consciousness that it is perhaps not surprising to find that many anthropologists, and other representatives of Western Civilization, have tended to suppose that pre-industrial and non-literate peoples have remained static, and that they embody today all they have been "since time immemorial."

 But every culture, of course, experiences both continuity and change: over the longest term, these changes may be so radical that they amount to a new cultural or socio-economic form, but in the shorter term they are more often a change of content, not of form.

 Whereas the basic principles that govern economy and society may stay the same, many of the devices, rules, and customs that mediate between these principles, on the one hand, and material production, on the other, are constantly developing.

 If, therefore, we wish to describe a society's heritage, we must consider what has changed and what has stayed the same.

 And if, in describing this, we wish to remain close to the people of today, we must focus as clearly as possible on what they regard as their own tradition. We must look closely at the transformations they regard as inimical to the very heart of their own way of life. Individuals use and occupy their lands, but they do so as representatives of particular cultures. They work according to the conventions of a particular social system: it is a system that they regard as valuable and necessary, and it is a system that, under pressure, they wish to defend.

 Such loyalty to a social system makes sense only when we recognize the existence and importance of deep feelings of continuity, which are perhaps the very essence of a sense of culture. Without them, it is impossible to understand what social life means, and why it is important to be a Naskapi, an Inuk, or a Settler-the three peoples, the three cultures, the three systems that occupy Labrador today.

 The Aboriginal Cultures

 There are many ways of marking the differences between the native cultures in Labrador, but an obvious starting point is geographical. The Quebec-Labrador peninsula has long been occupied by peoples with distinct, if overlapping, terrains. The pattern, at frrst glance, is quite simple. The interior is the land of Naskapi, Cree, and Montagnais Indians; the coast, on the west and east side of the peninsula, is the land of the Inuit. To this simplistic geographical picture, it is possible to add some refining touches. The Indian groups of the interior regularly used well established corridors to the coast, so their land use has, for at least as long as we can find records, included movements into-or at least across-Inuit lands. Similarly, Inuit have always used parts of the interior, and, for as long as they have been in Labrador, they have travelled considerable distances inland. They did not have established corridors inland, but they roamed widely throughout the hinterland of the coast. Settiers, in their turn, and in relatively recent times, have established a way of life on the coast, especially in bays in which they could find wood and shelter, adjacent to and to some degree overlapping the lands of the Inuit.


But the subtleties of geographic distribution lie at the periphery of the differences between these populations. In effect, the Quebec-Labrador peninsula has been divided among different cultures, each of which has had its distinctive social and economic system, and behind which, originally, stood two broad cultures-Indian and Eskimo, the people of the interior and the people of the coast. Early accounts of Labrador contain many references to its distinctive cultures, and some authors have dwelt on the differences-indeed, on the oppositions-between the peoples they had encountered or of whom they had heard tell.


Hugh Brody, "Permanence and Change among the Inuit and Settlers of Labrador", Our Footprints Are Everywhere: Inuit Land Use and Occupancy in Labrador (Labrador Inuit Association, 1977), p. 311. Reproduced with permission of the Labrador Inuit Association.



The following is an address by William Andersen III, former president of the Labrador Inuit Association, at the opening of land claim negotiations. 22 January 1989.


Mr Dawe, on behalf of the Inuit and Kablunangajuit of Labrador, I welcome you to our land.

Honourable Minister, guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to have this chance to talk to you on the occasion of the beginning of negotiations to settle Labrador Inuit land claims. I want to use this opportunity to look at a few of the issues that are important to us, theLabrador Inuit and Kablunangajuit.

 Before doing so, I would like to thank all of the people who have worked so hard to organize this ceremony, and those who have prepared the feast. I also want to let you know that I am very proud of the achievements of the Labrador Inuit Association and its leaders in advancing the cause of the Labrador Inuit over the past 16 years. It is that history of dedication and struggle that has led to this event today.

This is an historic event for the Labrador Inuit and Kablunangajuit. We are the aboriginal peoples of northern Labrador who have never surrendered our aboriginal rights or title to our land. Since time immemorial, the Labrador Inuit have used the resources from our land to survive. This survival stemmed from the cultural and customary law practices and the traditional method of hunting, fishing, and gathering. Since Confederation, federal and provincial laws and regulations have been imposed upon us. These laws and regulations have been drafted by governments who had no knowledge of, or respect for, the aboriginal rights of the Labrador Inuit, nor for our absolute dependency upon the land and its resources for our survival. These factors have led to increasing frustration, and mistrust toward governments and others.

 We are not involved in court action to assert our rights: we are, however, close to going to court to protect Labrador Inuit and Kablunangajuit from harassment under provincial game laws and to protect areas of our land from the harmful activities of the Department of National Defence. Nor are our lend claims being negotiated because of large developments. Although increased military action in Labrador is a major development of real concern to us, it is not the issue that has led the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador to negotiate with us.

I believe the single most important influence in getting Labrador Inuit land claim negotiations going is the realization by Canada and Newfoundland that it is necessary to reform the way the aboriginal people of this province and country are treated and accommodated within Canadian society.

 I like to think of the negotiation of the Labrador Inuit land claims as part of a major process of reform within Canada. There is much that can be said about the need for reform, about the reform process, and about milestones that have already been passed. But I do not wish to do so now. There are, however, a few things I would like to point out at the start of this negotiation.

Just because the Labrador Inuit Association, or LIA, and the two governments have agreed that there is a need for change, that the settlement of Labrador Inuit land claims is a key to the change that is needed, and that negotiation of those claims is the best way to proceed, no one should be under any illusion that a settlement will soon follow.

 For a long time, Labrador Inuit felt that the root of our problems was a lack of understanding. We believed that, once government decision makers understood us and understood the ways in which their system have caused us problems and understood these problems, changes and improvements would then follow. Experience has taught us this is not so.

The process of righting wrongs, abuses, and injustices in a society is a slow and difficult task. For our part, we have had to learn that just because decision makers can be persuaded that a wrong exists does not mean they will agree with us on how to put it right. Decision makers in government must learn that when they at last agree that a problem exists and understand the problem, they have only come part of the way-the difficult task of reform lies ahead. They must also learn that their solution to our problem is, with few exceptions, not a solution at all. This is because we have different visions of the kind of world we desire.

I would like to give two examples of the point I am making. The first is a personal experience shared by many Inuit of my generation. When I attended school, I was prohibited from speaking my mother tongue-Inuktitut. I was punished for speaking it. Twenty-five years ago, the dominant society did not see this as wrong. In recent years, nearly all Kablunaks who hear this story agree that was wrong. But so far, very, very few have agreed with me that the way in which this wrongdoing should be put right is to make Inuktitut an official language of northern Labrador and the language of instruction in our schools.

My second example relates to the disagreement between LIA and the Newfoundland Wildlife Division over the hunting of polar bears. About a year ago, LIA succeeded in persuading the Minister of Natural Resources to permit Labrador Inuit to hunt polar bears. This was something we had been trying to do for many years. We were extremely pleased when the minister announced not only that he understood the problem from our point of view but, more important, that Labrador Inuit would be allowed to hunt polar bear. When the regulations permitting the hunt came out, however, we found that we would have to organize ourselves in a non-traditional way and behave as if we were sports hunters in order to be able to hunt.

The point I am making is that there is a huge gap between the vision which the Labrador Inuit have of their world and the way they would like it to work, and the kind of view which Newfoundlanders and Canadians take of their societies and for the place Labrador Inuit occupy within those societies.

 The gaps between us are huge, because we come from different cultures, speak different languages, and hold different values concerning our social and economic well-being. The reforms that the Labrador Inuit desire and which lie at the heart of our land claims negotiations define a whole new vision for northern Labrador society and for our land.

 In order for that vision to become real, it must be shared by both the federal and the provincial governments. The difficulty of achieving that shared vision is great. It remains great even where there is agreement on the need for change and where there is a positive atmosphere of goodwill-such as presently exists between us. I am hopeful that the current negotiations will achieve that shared vision.

Negotiation, by its nature, involves give and take. In the negotiation process of giving, a party is often asked to do something, or to concede something, because it is important to another party to the negotiation. A negotiated agreement, therefore, often calls upon a party to do or to concede something-not because its own people consider it important for their own sake, but because another party requires it in terms of its values and aspirations.

 In these situations, a negotiator or leader cannot explain a concession to his own people in terms of their values and aspirations: rather, he is forced to justify it in terms of someone else's values and aspirations.

 The concession to be justified often calls for a major sacrifice, and the sacrifice being called for is usually in favour of an old adversary.

 This makes the task of achieving negotiated change even more difficult than the task of normal reform.

 I raise this point partly because the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has already called on the Labrador Inuit in its land claims policy to do something that is extraordinarily difficult for us to do. Also, we too will be calling on both governments to agree to, and accomplish, things that may be justifiable only in terms of Labrador Inuit values and aspirations.

While there is much in the provincial land claims policy that LIA does not agree with, one thing stands out as being a potential obstacle right at the very start. I am referring specifically to the statements in the provincial policy that:

From our point of view, this is a very hard demand. In effect, it means that we must agree to extinguish our rights to the land as a precondition to the beginning of substantive negotiation.

 These provincial requirements are designed to meet the aspirations of the province. They most certainly do not meet Labrador Inuit values and aspirations. As a result, before I or other leaders of the Labrador Inuit can consider making this concession, we must have a very, very clear idea of the total within which it is made. Why? Because as one of the aboriginal peoples of Canada, the only things we have that set us apart from the dominant society and that guarantee for us our land, our means of survival, and our survival as a unique people, are our aboriginal rights.

 I want to make it clear that I, and other directors of the Labrador Inuit Association, will never consider the possibility of agreeing that the Labrador Inuit will surrender all their aboriginal land claims at a preliminary stage in the negotiations. Such a sacrifice will only be considered when we have a crystal-clear, detailed, and satisfactory set of terms and conditions against which the possibility of a surrender is to be weighed.

In other words, before we can even begin to consider calling on the Inuit of Labrador to make the surrender required of them by both governments, we must be able to identify to the Inuit of Labrador how the arrangement meets their needs, values, and aspirations.

 What is it that we, the Labrador Inuit, will be looking for from governments that will have little place within the values and aspirations of the dominant Canadian and Newfoundland societies? The question is hard to answer, largely because I am optimistic about this country's desire and ability to provide proudly for our future.

Of fundamental importance to us, as Labrador Inuit, is our future as a distinct and viable people. We are looking to the next 200 years-not the next 20. This requires that governments not view land claims negotiations as a cash-for-land deal. Our rights to land and its resources cannot be separated from cultural, social, economic, and political issues. Concerns about our viability as a people also require that governments not accept the solutions of the past without critical objectivity and real sensitivity.

In specific terms, this requires that we try to resolve matters that may have little place in the values and priorities of the dominant society as it comes to the land claims table, but which are vitally important to us. Some of these vitally important issues are:

Of all the challenges faced by negotiators, the reconciliation of the values, ideals, and aspirations of different peoples is the most difficult. It has to take place over a long period of time. But in our case, this process is well under way. Two important elements in the process of reconciliation have been the federal-provincial arrangements respecting native peoples, and patriation of the Constitution with the First Ministers' Conferences on aboriginal matters which followed. But our land claims negotiations are different. They are different because they involve us, the Inuit of Labrador, as an equal; and because they involve our land and our future.

 The negotiated settlement of our land claims can ensure our future as a people, or it could lead to our oppression and possible extinction. For the Inuit of Labrador, the stakes are very high. For us, the prize is priceless; and it is my belief, as an Inuk, a Labradorian, a Newfoundlander, and a Canadian, that our governments and the majority of the people would like to see us achieve that prize. I also believe that if we fail, the ideals and values of Canadians and Newfoundlanders will have been betrayed.

 In conclusion, while I have no illusions that this negotiation will be difficult, time-consuming, frustrating at times, and always labour-intensive, I also insist that there must be no doubt about the determination of all parties to accept the challenges of this negotiation and to complete the task we have now set for ourselves.

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