Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/The Inuvialuit Final Agreement and Collaborative Management in the Western Arctic, Canada

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The Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA) is a comprehensive land claim agreement between the federal government of Canada and the Inuvialuit Indigenous peoples. A comprehensive land claim is a negotiation concerning areas with Indigenous claims that have not previously been addressed in written or codified law [1]. The IFA was signed June 5th, 1984. The IFA is very significant in Canadian history as it is considered one of the first "modern day treaties” [2].

Title page of the 1984 Inuvialuit Final Agreement

The purpose of the IFA was to settle unceded traditional land claims, and provide property rights and self-governance abilities to the Inuvialuit people. As outlined in the official 1984 agreement, the goal is to provide the Inuvialuit people with the opportunity to preserve cultural identity, contribute to the economy, and protect the Arctic ecosystem [3]. Since the implementation of the IFA, audits have been conducted to determine if the obligations and expectations as outlined in the agreement have been met and which components of the claim have been successful.

The IFA covers a wide range of actors and obligations. This includes land tenure arrangements, financial distribution and compensation, as well as the creation and implementation of co-management boards for social programs and ecosystem sustainability. One major criticism of the IFA has been the failure, on behalf of the federal government, to implement a self-government principle for the Inuvialuit people.


The Inuvialuit people have occupied the Western Arctic region for approximately 1,000 years. In the 19th Century, there were about 2,000 Inuvialuit people, which formed the densest Inuit population in Arctic Canada. Each of the regional groups within the Inuvialuit population moved around from season to season for various resources and hunting purposes. After contact with Europeans, The Inuvialuit people were reduced to ten percent of their original population [4].

The Inuvialuit people hold traditional land claims to land at the northern tip of Yukon and the Northwest Territories, bordering the Beaufort Sea, and stretching into Islands in the Arctic Ocean.

This map shows the location of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR)

Up until 1973, this land was considered Crown land by the Canadian government. The federal, provincial, and territorial governments were motivated to create an agreement so they could avoid conflict when pursuing resource exploitation on lands with unceded claims [2]. Some of these resources included fossil fuels and diverse arctic wildlife.

Negotiations for the IFA took ten years [2]. This relatively lengthy time frame provided the Inuvialuit people with the opportunity to finally formally negotiate with the federal government, and to discuss important matters such as Arctic wildlife management, land development, and financial compensation. The Inuvialuit Final Agreement is legislation that was approved by parliament [3] and is protected under the Canadian Constitution [5]. This ensures security and legitimacy for Inuvialuit management, as the agreement is recognized at the highest level of government. This was the third comprehensive land claim agreement signed in Canada, and it set a precedent which has helped to lead many other negotiations between Indigenous groups and the Canadian government. [5]. One major task finalized in the IFA was the conclusion of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (IRS), which defined clear borders of Inuvialuit.


The two main negotiators of the IFA were the federal government of Canada and the Inuvialuit people. The federal government of Canada is an Interested Stakeholder. It is an interested stakeholder because although the federal government does not occupy the ISR or have traditional ties to the land, it has economic incentives to reach a settlement. Those incentives include, for example, potential tax revenue from resource development in the region.

The Inuvialuit people are affected stakeholders because they have been occupying the land for generations and development and associated impacts in this area directly affects their livelihoods, incomes, and well-being. Given Canada’s history of colonization and marginalization of Indigenous peoples, it was very important that Indigenous voices were heard in negotiations and that they were not excluded from the narrative. This was very challenging initially, as the Canadian government was hesitant to even negotiate the idea of sharing power or forming a co-operative agreement with the Inuvialuit people. The Canadian government appointed federal negotiators to represent their interests. Because the negotiations spanned several elections and ensuing government turnovers, there was also turnover in the federal negotiators involved in the process. This turnover highlights the tension between interested stakeholders – who can cut ties and move on without risking job security or livelihoods – and the Inuvialuit people, who continued negotiations with each incoming party because of their unwavering attachment to the land. After the IFA was finalized, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) took on many of the responsibilities to be fulfilled by the federal government.

One element that helped IFA negotiations take place was Indigenous mobilization after a period of non-negotiable land management [2]. Inuvialuit activists recognized that the government “seemed to only want to deal with institutions that were incorporated or legal bodies” [6]. The Committee for Original People’s Entitlement (COPE) was formed by a diverse team of Inuvialuit people, including elders and youth, whose mission was to represent the interests of the Indigenous people of the Western Arctic [7]. COPE represented the six Inuvialuit communities and their interests [8] during negotiations. The group was disbanded after the IFA was formalized in 1984 and replaced with more specialized Inuvialuit-led organizations, such the the Inuvialuit Game Council (IGC), and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) [9].

Stakeholder Level of Power
Federal government of Canada and federal negotiators High
Province of Yukon and Northwest Territories government High
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) High
Committee for Original Peoples Entitlement (COPE) Moderate
Inuvialuit Organizations (IGC,IRC, etc.) Moderate
Inuvialuit Communities Low

Tenure agreements

The IFA provided the Inuvialuit people with title to traditionally used land, but this land was not under their exclusive control and still remains under federal jurisdiction. The federal government retains certain conditional usage rights in tenure. The Inuvialuit people claimed 335,000 square kilometers as traditional land, and of this 91,000 square kilometers was turned over [5] – significantly less than the original claim. Of the 91,000 square km, the Inuvialuit have subsurface rights to 13,000 square km, and rights to the remaining land excluding gas, oil, and minerals [10]. Subsurface rights means that the property owner has the authority over resources below the surface [11]. In other words, the Inuvialuit can only manage resource extraction of a small portion of the land to which they hold title, and the federal government can provide leases and licenses to companies or parties interested in resource extraction. However the Inuvialuit do have the right to negotiate with potentially interested stakeholders to discuss the potential for training and employment of the Inuvialuit people for the proposed project [10]. This action was criticized by John Amagoalik of the ITC Land Claims Commissions saying “the national oil companies gained it all”[6]. To date, there has been significant corporate interest in resource development in the region, with many companies making claims, but actual development of subsurface resources has been limited. , but have not yet extracted resources from within the ISR [12]

The land transfer was granted to the Inuvialuit Land Corporation [10] The Inuvialuit selected their lands based on wildlife, culturally significant sites, and sites with the potential with tourism opportunities – and were not selected on the basis for the potential for gas, oil, or mineral extraction. This highlights the Inuvialuit people’s desires for historically significant land, rather than for economic exploitation.

The federal government of Canada retains access to the first 100m from the edge of the coast and navigable rivers and lakes for recreation or emergencies [3]. Government employees also have rights to access the ISR for business or other legitimate purposes.

An audit of the IFA in 2007 by the Auditor general of Canada found that INAC, who was responsible for land transfer to Inuvialuit management, made several errors throughout the process. The audit found that INAC had mistakenly included some provincial and territorial infrastructure in the ISR. Furthermore, the Crown also retains authority over certain sites for various purposes, however the IFA outlines that once they no longer required use of that land, it is supposed to be returned to the Inuvialuit people. In both cases, INAC has failed to set up systems to exchange or re-acquire land [5].

In summary, the IFA provided Inuvialuit people with title. They do not have ultimate management or sovereignty over the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, but they have gained rights that help them preserve cultural identity and traditional ways of life such as hunting.


The Inuvialuit secured exclusive rights to harvest wildlife within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, as well as preferential harvesting rights for subsistence purposes [10]. These rights reflect federal conservation goals, however they grant Inuvialuit people legal entitlement to game. Wildlife management in the ISR is part of a co-management system between the federal government of Canada, the Yukon and Northwest Territories government, and Inuvialuit organizations. The co-management system consists of one Inuvialuit board and five co-management boards [13]

Caribou are some of the wildlife that can be found in the Western Arctic and within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region
  1. The Inuvialuit Game Council
  2. Environmental Impact Review Board
  3. Environmental Impact Screening Committee
  4. Fisheries Joint Management Committee
  5. Wildlife Management Advisory Council North Slope
  6. Wildlife Management Advisory Council Northwest Territories

The Inuvialuit Game Council (IGC) plays an important role in wildlife management within the ISR and is the only exclusively Inuvialuit board within the co-management system. The IGC is representative of Inuvialuit interests as it is made up of an elected chair and representatives from the six Inuvialuit communities [13]. The IGC played an important representative role both internally and externally. The IGC has worked to set harvesting quotas and game management within the ISR, and also works to provide advice and recommendations to the federal and provincial/territorial government concerning environmental sustainability and conservation [9].

The majority of the boards listed above share equal representatives from the Inuvialuit and the government. Each operates with its own set of goals and schedules regular meetings and conferences to ensure communication between both parties. Tasks range from screening development proposals for environmental threats to the ISR to creating conservation plans for Arctic wildlife such as polar bears and cariboo [13]. These boards are key agencies that support Inuvialuit livelihoods, help ensure the safety and sustainability of wildlife and nurture shared agendas between all parties.

Compensation and Benefits

In the IFA, The Inuvialuit were set to receive a total payment of $170 million [5] between the years of 1984 to 1997 [6]. These payments are free of tax, however earnings by Inuvialuit organizations remain subject to tax laws [6]. The purpose of these funds was to assist the Inuvialuit people to invest and support programs that built independence and long-term security. It is important to recognize that comprehensive land claims are more complex then land tenure. Land claims involve entire communities and social elements that require additional thought and planning. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) manages funds received from the IFA. The IRG also provides services and information on benefits available to IFA beneficiaries. A person is eligible to be a beneficiary if they were on the IFA voters’ list, or if they are of Inuvialuit descent – to receive financial compensation they must be of 18 years or older [10].

Obligations and Challenges

This section illustrates challenges of the IFA both prior and post agreement.


Throughout negotiations of the IFA, COPE had to deal with many different governments. The negotiations spanned more than 14 years, during which there were six government turnovers. Following each of those turnovers, COPE had to re-educate and re-introduce the new parties and get them up to speed [6]. Initial negotiations were also very challenging, as COPE had to spend over a decade fighting for Indigenous land rights while fending off constant undermining of Inuvialuit traditions and integrity. The Inuvialuit Agreement in Principle was signed in 1978 [2], and tensions were especially high between the AIP and the finalization of the IFA as COPE still struggled with weakening relationships with the federal government. Sam Riesman was brought on as an external negotiator in 1982 [6], launching the agreement in principle into the final stages.

Post IFA

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is a federal government organization that was directly involved in the obligations outlined in the IFA. In a report published by The Auditor General of Canada in 2007, it was concluded that INAC is not fulfilling its responsibilities. One of INAC’s key obligations was to inform other federal organizations of their roles as outlined in the IFA. It didn’t do so, meaning those other organizations were failing to meet their obligations [5]. This is a significant matter, given that IFA is upheld by the Canadian Constitution and the federal government of Canada should be taking significant measures to fulfill its obligations. The Auditor General also criticized INAC for its failure to create a system to implement and monitor obligations outlined in the IFA [5]. This has prevented the IFA from being truly effective, because the federal government has yet to see their part through. More recent reports suggest INAC has taken steps forward to follow through with issues concerning involvement and planning [14]. This highlights the importance for organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, to be held accountable for their actions. The processes outlined in the IFA are multi-level agreements that require planning, organization, and cohesion between departments as well as follow-up monitoring and reporting.

A common criticism of the IFA is that it did not provide a chapter on self-government for the Inuvialuit people. At the time that the IFA was signed in 1984, self-government was not recognized as an inherent right by the government of Canada[15] In 1995, when the Inherent Right Policy was introduced, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) began a 20-year push for Inuvialuit self-government. Through the exclusion of a self-government chapter, “the Inuvialuit people do not have the authority to create a formal [Indigenous] government” [2]. This means that while the Inuvialuit people can exercise some economic, political, and social power – the federal and provincial/territorial governments may still on occasion override or interfere with local decisions. Inuvialuit boards and organizations such as the IRC are able to manage benefits and compensations received in the IFA, however the Inuvialuit people have called for greater decision-making abilities. In a historical context, the Inuvialuit people are asking the federal government to recognize that Indigenous peoples had self-government systems in place that were overthrown by colonialism [15].


In the last decade, there has been significant progress made towards securing Inuvialuit self-government. As of July 21st 2015, the government of Canada, the government of the Northwest Territories, and the IRC signed the Inuvialuit Self-Government Agreement-in Principle (AIP) [16]. The AIP is currently in the final stages of planning; a date to sign the final agreement has not yet been set. The IRC states that the AIP will “ have power to make and enforce Inuvialuit laws, design policies and programs and deliver programs and services to the Inuvialuit” [16]. Inuvialuit power to determine law and governance would be a substantial step for Indigenous rights in Canada. The IRC is the primary voice for the Inuvialuit people in the AIP, and their dedication and diligence over the years for the Inuvialuit community provides hope that the AIP will deliver satisfactory structure and implementation for a successful Inuvialuit government.

Inuvialuit Regional Corporation: Self-Government Agreement-In-Principle

While current Inuvialuit organizations may have been working within limited power, that does not diminish the significant contributions they have made in relation to the ISR. Previously in the ‘Wildlife’ section above, we explored the important role of the Inuvialuit Game Council (IGC). Another key actor responsible for seeing through obligations of the IFA is the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC). The IRC has played a fundamental role at the provincial/territorial and national level, taking on a political role in representation of values and interests of the Inuvialuit. Within the ISR, the IRC has also taken on several responsibilities and created subsidiaries to manage the resources received in the IFA [9]. Through these subsidiaries, the IRC has implemented successful economic and social initiatives for IFA beneficiaries. Some of the resources provided by the IRC include employment training and cultural services.


Recommendation to the federal, provincial, and territorial governments of Canada: Indigenous peoples of Canada have been fighting for self-government abilities since contact with Europeans. If the IFA is considered a ‘modern-treaty’ it should include modern government principles. It is important that the self-government Agreement-In-Principle is finalized and signed. The self-government AIP should ensure that Inuvialuit people receive a fair agreement that sets them up for success, and respects Indigenous independence. As of November 2010, Canada signed a statement to support UNDRIP – the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [17]. UNDRIP recognizes the importance of Indigenous rights at an international level, while it is an act and not a law - it still remains culturally significant. By pushing through an equitable agreement, Canada would be honouring the letter and spirit of the UNDRIP declaration.


  1. Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; Communications Branch. (2010, September 15). Comprehensive Land Claim Agreements (CLCAs). Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Alcantara, C., & Davidson, A. (2015). Negotiating Aboriginal Self-Government Agreements in Canada: An Analysis of the Inuvialuit Experience. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 48(3), 553-575. doi:
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (n.d). The Western Arctic Claim, Inuvialuit Final Agreement. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ref5" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Mcghee, R.. R. The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2006). Inuvialuit. Retrieved from
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Government of Canada; Office of the Auditor General of Canada. (2007). Chapter 3-Inuvialuit Final Agreement. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ref6" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 COPE: Original Voice of Inuvialuit Rights. (n.d.). Inuvialuiy Regional Corporation. Retrieved from
  7. Committee for Original People's Entitlement (COPE). (n.d.). Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Retrieved from
  8. Wootton, B., Durkalec, A., & Ashley, S. (2008, January 28). Inuvialuit Settlement Region Impact Analysis. Retrieved from
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Alcantara, C., & Wilson, G.N. (2012). Mixing Politics and Business in the Canadian Arctic: Inuit Corporate Governance in Nunavik and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Canadian journal of Political Science, 45(04),781-804. doi:10.1017/s0008423912000996
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Summary of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. (n.d.). Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Retrieved from
  11. Yukon Surface Rights Board: FAQ. (2013, October 10). Yukon Surface Rights Board. Retrieved from
  12. Quenneville, G. (2016, March 30). Beaufort Sea Oil and Gas Licences Shouldn't Be Held Forever, Says Inuvialuit Leader. Retrieved from
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Co-Management System. (n.d.). Joint Secretariat. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from
  14. Government of Canada; Office of the Auditor General of Canada. (2010). Chapter 4 – Sustaining Developments in the Northwest Territories. Retrieved from
  15. 15.0 15.1 Self-Government History. (n.d.). Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Retrieved December from
  16. 16.0 16.1 Self-Government Agreement-In-Principle. (n.d.). Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from
  17. Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. (2017, August 03). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from

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