Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Development in the Canadian Arctic
A Canadian contribution to the land use dialogue at the Eighth Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, April 24 to May 5, 2000
- Snapshot of the Canadian Arctic
- The Journey Begins: Sustainable Development, Indigenous Peoples, and the Canadian Arctic
- Partnership Building for Sustainable Development in the Canadian Arctic
- Working Together: Strengthening Global and Circumpolar Cooperation
- Taking Stock: Emerging Issues Into the 21st Century
- Selected Readings
- Web Sites
At its eighth session in the spring of 2000, the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) will be reviewing global progress made with respect to Chapter 10 of Agenda 21, "Integrated Approach to the Planning and Management of Land Resources". For Canada - the world's second largest country in land mass - the issues associated with the sustainable development of land resources are intimately entwined with Canadian history, in addition to being pivotal to its future well-being. As a contribution to the land use dialogue, Canada has prepared a series of six monographs describing its experience and the challenges that remain in the integration of sustainable development.
Agriculture and forests will be particular themes at CSD 8. Canada is world famous for its prairie wheat, and sustainable agricultural practices, both within Canada and internationally, have global implications. Canada presents its experiences in its first monograph on sustainable agriculture. As with the prairies, images of vast Canadian forests and the rugged Canadian Shield rich in minerals are familiar Canadian icons. For this session of the CSD, Canada has updated monographs on forests and on minerals and metals originally prepared for the five-year review of Agenda 21 in 1997.
Canada, along with its circumpolar neighbours, faces extraordinary challenges in the sustainable development of its Arctic regions and is working to this end directly with Indigenous peoples and territorial governments, including the newest territory, Nunavut, which came into being on April 1, 1999. Along with fellow members of the Arctic Council, Canada is looking for means to ensure that the world has a better understanding of the impact of southern activities on the vulnerable Arctic environment. In this regard, a monograph addressing sustainable development and Indigenous peoples in the Canadian Arctic has been prepared.
Key to successfully implementing sustainable development policy is a clear understanding of the issues to be addressed. The role of science cannot be underestimated in this search for understanding. In this regard, Canada has developed two additional monographs. One provides an overview of the applications of earth sciences to the gathering and interpretation of scientific information to contribute to policy development. In the other, Canada concludes its monograph series for CSD 8 with a review of its experiences of an ecosystem approach to the development of sustainable development principles.
This monograph identifies the relative progress made on Chapter 26 of Agenda 21, "Recognizing and Strengthening the Role of Indigenous People and Their Communities", and is offered as a contribution to the Indigenous Day being organized during the session. It traces, in particular, the Government of Canada's efforts to implement and build on commitments in pursuit of sustainable development with Indigenous communities in the Canadian Arctic.
While this monograph represents the views of the Government of Canada, comments from the territorial governments of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, as well as from several Indigenous organizations, including the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, were very beneficial in its preparation.
For Canada, sustainable development is best represented as a journey, not a destination. The monographs described above, as well as the other monographs in the Sustainable Development in Canada Monograph Series, are milestones on this journey, and we invite you to join us and share our experiences.
The journey commences with preparations for the 1992 Rio Summit in cooperation with Indigenous peoples globally. Long before Rio, the Government of Canada and northern Indigenous communities had begun processes to lay the institutional foundations to empower and build capacity in these communities. This monograph reviews some of the progress since Rio in relation to this complex work, which has been shaped by Canada's commitment to sustainable development. The Government of Canada believes institution and capacity building are integral steps in managing a growing array of environmental, economic, social, and cultural challenges faced by Indigenous communities in northern Canada.
"The pursuit of sustainable development can be understood as a journey. Guided by a need for better decision making, this journey is an exploration of new ways of thinking and acting that emerge as we integrate economic, environmental and social perspectives."
-Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 1998 Report, para. 5.1
While many of the processes described in this monograph are ongoing, there is a growing record of practical measures that Indigenous communities themselves are increasingly beginning to initiate and implement. A few of these are noted, and Web sites are provided for locating additional up-to-date information.
A summary of the 1999 report of Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development provides a context for some of the continuing challenges in this vast and remote region of Canada. While progress is understandably slow and incremental, there is room for optimism. The Government of Canada is committed to working in partnership with Indigenous peoples and northern governments to find practical ways to meet the challenges. Provincial and northern territorial governments, as well as nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and industries in northern Canada, are actively engaged in pursuing sustainable development and responsible stewardship of the natural environment. Many of these activities are in partnership with the Government of Canada.
The term "Indigenous" is the common international usage. In Canada, the term "Aboriginal" flows from Canada's Constitution of 1982, which includes North American Indians (First Nations) and Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
The words "Arctic" and "North" are used interchangeably throughout this monograph. They are not intended as precise geographic designations. Most of the issues reviewed are common to Indigenous communities in Canada's three northern territories and the northern parts of seven Canadian provinces.
A Snapshot of the Canadian Arctic
The People: Cultural Diversity and a Rich Heritage
Northern Canada is first and foremost the homeland of Indigenous communities. Attachment to the land and dependence on local resources for physical and spiritual sustenance are deeply rooted characteristics of their cultural heritage. Each of the Inuit groups and First Nations identifies with a traditional territory, shaped by thousands of years of continuous occupation. Their communities are scattered over this immense region, located mainly on major rivers and along the coastline. Many are accessible only by air or seasonal sea and river transport.
In the Yukon, approximately 21 percent of the population of 31 000 are Indigenous; in the Northwest Territories, 50 percent of the 42 000 are Indigenous; while in Nunavut, 85 percent of the 25 000 are Indigenous. In Nunavik and northern Labrador, Inuit and First Nations make up a majority of the resident population. United by a common language, there are some 41 000 Inuit living in 53 communities across northern Canada. First Nations often make up the majority population in another 46 communities. The most startling demographic feature of the Indigenous population is its youth - as many as 50 percent are under the age of 15 years - setting the stage for some important challenges in the near future that will be shaped by the needs of this very young society.
Apart from early explorers, fortune seekers, and missionaries, non-Indigenous people did not make their way into the North in any numbers until the early to mid-1900s. Even then, this was a transient population engaged in government services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, military activities, and resource exploration and extraction. Today, more and more people are making the North their permanent home. The majority of these residents live in the larger administrative centres such as Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Kuujjuaq, Iqaluit, and Inuvik.
The Physical Geography: A Vast and Diverse Region
The Canadian North is characterized by a diversity of physical landscapes, climates, and ecosystems. Daytime temperatures can fall well below minus 50 degrees Celsius in the winter, whereas in the summer, some areas can reach temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius. There is abundant freshwater. The tundra, subarctic forests, coastal plains, mountains, and Arctic seas support a rich variety of wildlife. Wildlife and plants are equally varied from tiny summer flowers to the grandeur of migrating caribou herds and thousands of Canada geese. Certain species, especially birds and some marine mammals, migrate long distances and link the Arctic with temperate, tropical, and even Antarctic regions. The Arctic is a breeding ground for millions of migratory birds. It is a region of global importance.
Wind patterns and water currents create a wide range of climatic and ecological conditions for varied animal and plant species, making the North an early warning system for the rest of the planet. Once viewed as pristine, the North now suffers from the effects of air- and water-borne pollutants and global warming. Ozone depletion subjects northern ecosystems to high levels of ultraviolet radiation, with as yet unknown consequences. The effects from military activities, industrial developments, and human communities, particularly from waste disposal, have caused site-specific disruptions. Given the fragility of its ecosystems, the North is slow to recover from the impacts of human activity. Thus, there is a requirement for coordinated processes that will balance conservation and development needs.
The Economy: Optimism and Opportunity
Sustainable development in the Canadian Arctic faces unique challenges and difficulties: remote access to primary markets, limited transportation infrastructure, high transportation and communication costs, lack of capital, high energy costs, and a small population with few industrial skills and little formal education. These factors create an uneven distribution of economic opportunities in the North.
Until the 1800s and early 1900s, the economy was based on traditional activities. This subsistence economy shifted dramatically with the advent of whaling activities in the eastern Arctic and the expansion of the fur trade into the North, making cash and trade goods important commodities for the Indigenous population. Today's economy can be characterized as a mix of wildlife harvesting, wage employment, and social assistance payments.
Direct employment in government and in government support services accounts for the largest percentage of wage income, followed by primary resource extraction industries such as mining for gold, silver, lead, zinc, and diamonds; oil and gas development; and, to a much lesser extent, fishing and forestry. Worldwide there is a growing market for northern products, including meat, fish, arts and crafts, and Arctic technologies. Tourism is a rapidly growing industry with as yet unknown potential. For the most part, local economic development projects have been heavily subsidized by the federal and territorial governments.
"Within all of the communities, particularly the larger regional centers, economic activity is becoming much more diversified. Yet an emphasis on new economic opportunities has not diminished the deeply entrenched desire of Inuit to maintain a hunting way of life. While a casual observer of community life may not encounter traditional activities, close ties to the land remain fundamental for all Inuit." -Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, The Inuit of Canada
With recent land claims agreements, Indigenous communities now have increasing access to investment capital - and they are using it. There are many new and interesting economic programs under way. Airlines, offshore and high seas fisheries, cultural tourism, transportation companies, mining and hydrocarbon development, and joint ventures with other development interests are helping to create a new economic momentum. For example, Canada's second largest airline company, First Air, is Inuit-owned and -operated.
The Political Setting: Adapting to New Realities
Most of the Canadian Arctic is administered by and through three territorial governments. Over the past 30 years, the political evolution of these northern territories has led to the establishment of representative and responsible government in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. More recently, on April 1, 1999, a new, distinct territory called Nunavut was established in the eastern Arctic. The creation of Nunavut will bring government closer to Arctic residents of this region, most of whom are Inuit. The Government of Canada is now exploring the transfer of control and management of lands and resources to northern territorial governments.
The Constitution Act, 1982 recognized and affirmed the Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Rights that existed at that time by way of land claims agreements or subsequently acquired were included within the meaning of treaty rights. Since the mid-1970s, negotiation processes have been undertaken by the Government of Canada, provincial and territorial governments, and Indigenous communities to settle long-standing land claims and to address aspirations to self-government.
The settlement of Indigenous communities' land claims and the negotiation of self-government arrangements over the past two decades have resulted in new governance institutions, systems, and processes intended to promote Indigenous cultural and social practices and engender greater participation in the management of lands, resources, and the environment.
The Journey Begins: Sustainable Development, Indigenous Peoples, and the Canadian Arctic
Sustainable Development: The Past and the Future for Indigenous Communities of the Canadian Arctic
Sustainable use of natural resources - fish, forests, wildlife - is a way of life for the Indigenous communities of the Arctic. Indigenous peoples continue to rely on the sustainable use of renewable resources for their cultural, physical, and economic sustenance. This dependence puts them at great risk from industrial and agricultural pollutants that find their way into the Arctic food chain and from campaigns opposed to the harvesting of wildlife and the marketing of wildlife products. While Indigenous communities of northern Canada are exploring other avenues leading to economic development, at the same time they are seeking to balance these emerging opportunities with their desire to maintain values and traditional lifestyles attached to the land and wildlife. Innovative land and resource management regimes established through land claims, new self-government and public government arrangements, and a growing information base are all converging in northern Canada to help preserve and protect the relatively unspoiled northern environment.
The Changing Arctic
The Arctic is now recognized as a barometer for the global environment. As a sink for transboundary pollutants, it accumulates toxic contaminants originating largely from sources outside the North. Global climate change is having an impact on Arctic ecosystems and habitat, wildlife populations, and migration patterns. Increased ultraviolet radiation due to springtime ozone depletion presents serious risks to both ecosystems and people. These changes may have very serious long-term effects on the cultures and economies of Arctic Indigenous communities.
"Indigenous people and their communities.have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development."
-Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Principle 22.
International campaigns against hunting and trapping have been successful in creating some market access barriers to traditional northern wildlife products. Although few in number, these barriers have severely limited the international movement of these products, with devastating economic and cultural impacts on many northern Indigenous communities. High unemployment, along with health, social, and economic problems, has become a serious issue. Currently, there are few employment alternatives for northern Indigenous communities. Only in the past 10 to 15 years have these communities begun to participate in significant ways in the public service, mining, and energy sectors. Nonrenewable resource development still causes tension within some Indigenous communities.
The Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples are forging partnerships, building local capacity, and working to improve efficiencies and alternatives in northern communities. They are also collaborating to focus on expanded participation in global decision making in the best interests of this potentially prosperous, yet vulnerable, region.
Sustainable Development and the Global Community
"For Inuit, sustainable development is not simply a nice buzzword. It's a concept that holds the key to survival for Inuit culture into the next century and beyond. The concept of taking only what you need of a resource and using all of what you take is one that is lost on industrialized societies. However, it is the guiding principle that allowed Inuit to survive individually and grow as a culture in the harshest environment on the planet."
-Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Agenda 21 from an Inuit Perspective
Once Our Common Future, the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission), appeared on the world stage in 1987, the concept of sustainable development resonated throughout the international community. Among Indigenous communities in Canada, it was heralded as a vindication of sorts - a recognition that living in harmony with the natural environment must become the lifestyle of the future, not just for now.
In June 1992, world leaders from 179 countries and hundreds of nongovernmental and Indigenous organizations attended the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to discuss the critical relationship between the environmental health and the economic development of the planet. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, accompanied by Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development, a nonlegally binding commitment to take action, was signed by these leaders. Most of the leaders signed both of the legally binding global conventions on biological diversity and climate change and endorsed a set of forestry principles.
Canadian Indigenous Peoples and the Rio Summit
The Government of Canada supported the early involvement of Indigenous peoples in preparations for the Rio Summit in a number of ways. In 1991, national organizations representing Canadian Indigenous peoples were members of the National Report Steering Committee, which issued Canada's National Report: United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Brazil, June 1992. With funding support from the Government of Canada, the Indigenous communities were able to contribute to the substance of negotiations and debates leading to the conference documents and parallel events at Rio.
The Rio Declaration
The Rio Declaration contains 27 principles defining the rights and responsibilities of nations as they pursue human development and well-being and makes specific mention of Indigenous people and their communities. It states that the way to ensure long-term economic progress, beneficial to humanity, is to link it with environmental protection. This can only be achieved if nations establish global partnerships involving governments, their citizens, and key sectors of civil society.
"As people who have lived in harmony with nature and close to the land for centuries, aboriginal peoples of Canada have developed an immensely valuable information base and expertise which can be shared with the rest of Canadian society.These facts, coupled with the general recognition that decision-making should involve people affected by the decisions, have made governments. aware of the need to work together with aboriginal peoples." -Canada's National Report: United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1991.
Agenda 21 is a blueprint of action for global sustainable development into the 21st century that flows from the 27 principles of the Rio Declaration. Of key interest to Indigenous people is the perspective that sustainable development is a concept in which human and environmental concerns are interrelated. Unlike some regions of the globe, the Arctic did not receive specific attention in Agenda 21.
While Agenda 21 contains 40 chapters, all of interest to Indigenous peoples, it is Chapter 26, "Recognizing and Strengthening the Role of Indigenous People and Their Communities", that is specifically directed at Indigenous people. Three main objectives provide a platform for Indigenous peoples, in partnership with governments, to work together to build a common approach to the challenge of integrating environment and development issues.
Agenda 21 has adopted an ecosystem and regional approach to environmental management that complements the perspective of northern Indigenous communities. Other chapters of Agenda 21 relating to integrated resource management, consumption patterns, human resources, and environmental education offer guidelines that are useful in furthering the aims of sustainability in the Canadian North.
Partnership Building for Sustainable Development in the Canadian Arctic
Strengthening Northern Indigenous Communities
Canada's commitment to sustainable development is based on seven guiding principles articulated in A Guide to Green Government: an integrated approach, continuous improvement, accountability, shared stewardship, an ecosystem approach, a precautionary approach, and pollution prevention.
The Government of Canada continues to make efforts, particularly in response to the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), to empower Canadian Indigenous communities in respect of land and resource management, and is committed to resolving the outstanding land claims of Indigenous communities in northern Canada and to negotiate self-government arrangements. Gradually, these land claims and self-government efforts have been converging with sustainable development agendas.
Modern Land Claims Agreements in Canada's North
Modern land claims agreements have recognized Aboriginal ownership of large tracts of land in the territories. See, for example, the following:
- James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975)
- (Western Arctic) Inuvialuit Claims Agreement (1984)
- Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1992)
- Nunavut Land Claim Agreement (1993)
- Sahtu Dene and Métis Comprehensive Claim Agreement (1993)
- Umbrella Final Agreement between The Government of Canada, The Council for Yukon First Nations and The Government of the Yukon (1993)
- Teslin Tlingit Council Claim Agreement (1995)
- First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun Claim Agreement (1993)
- Champagne and Aishinik First Nations Claims Agreement (1995)
- Vuntut Gwich'in First Nation Claim Agreement (1995)
- Selkirk First Nation Final Agreement (1997)
- Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Final Agreement (1997)
- Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation Final Agreement (1998).
There are also two historical treaties in the Northwest Territories: Treaty 8 (1899) and Treaty 11 (1921).
Canada's unique approach to modern treaty making developed after the Calder case in 1973, a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on Aboriginal rights. Under the current comprehensive land claims policy, adopted in the mid-1980s, most settlements now include title to lands, financial compensation, terrestrial and marine wildlife harvesting rights, and guaranteed participation for Indigenous communities in decision-making processes relating to lands and environmental management.
"I would like my children and my grandchildren to know the ways of the Inummaritt (elders), but I would also like them to succeed in obtaining a good modern education, get good jobs, and to be comfortable in the world of computers."
-John Kaunaq, Naujaat, Nunavut
The first comprehensive modern-day treaty was the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975). Involving the Inuit of Nunavik and the Cree of James Bay, this agreement represented a new stage in treaty negotiations with governments and created impetus for the Government of Canada to negotiate other modern-day treaties with northern Indigenous communities.
One of the most important features of these land claims agreements is the establishment of co-management regimes for lands and resources. Co-management boards, involving the federal, territorial, or provincial government and Indigenous communities, provide decision-making authority on most matters related to the use and management of lands and resources. Great care is taken to ensure that these regimes respond to the evolving needs and priorities of Indigenous communities, their knowledge, perceptions, and research skills. To be effective, these regimes must be based on mutual respect and sensitivity to cross-cultural dynamics. These boards operate in Indigenous languages as well as English and French.
Sound resource management depends on improved scientific knowledge and the use of advanced technologies. The federal government is coordinating the development of a Science and Technology Strategy for its activities in the Canadian Arctic, which includes a commitment to work with Indigenous communities to ensure their knowledge, perceptions, and values form part of this strategy for knowledge-based decision making.
The community of Sanikiluaq in the Hudson Bay region of Nunavut has been recognized by the Friends of the United Nations for community initiatives supportive of UN goals. The community recorded Inuit Indigenous knowledge of the environment and sustainable living, a project supported by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. During the 50th anniversary year of the United Nations, Sanikiluaq was selected by the International Panel of Advisors to receive the "We the Peoples: 50 Communities Award".
A recent notable example is the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement concluded in June 1993 by the federal and territorial governments and an organization representing the Inuit in what is now the territory known as Nunavut. This agreement set in motion the plans for the creation of a new territorial government that would afford the residents of Nunavut greater control over their future. The treaty rights of the Indigenous communities of Nunavut flowing from this agreement are recognized and affirmed in the Canadian Constitution. Following ratification - first through a Nunavut-wide referendum and then by the Parliament of Canada - the land claim agreement was enacted through federal legislation. Implementation of its boards and agencies, including co-management institutions, is ongoing.
The Government of Canada enacted the Nunavut Act in June 1993 as companion legislation to the agreement. The act established democratic territorial government institutions that became operational on April 1, 1999. The elected legislature and cabinet are located in the capital, Iqaluit. However, a decentralized approach has been taken to administrative operations, which are located in communities throughout the territory. The Nunavut government has responsibility for education, health, social services, administration of justice, and most other provincial-type responsibilities. Communications among these departments and agencies are facilitated by computer and telecommunications technology.
Capacity building through education, training, and on-the-job experience will be an ongoing priority for the Nunavut government for the coming years. The new government structure includes a Department of Sustainable Development. Government support services, shrimp fishing, tourism, construction, and mining are among the key economic activities anticipated for Nunavut. However, preservation of natural ecosystems and habitat continues to be a priority. Three new national parks are to be created within Nunavut, together with management plans for all parks and conservation areas.
The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Nunavut Act are elements of significant processes working to change the face of governance in Canada's North. While land claims negotiations involving Indigenous communities have been ongoing in the North since the 1970s, in August 1995, the Government of Canada released its policy guide entitled Aboriginal Self-Government: The Government of Canada's Approach to Implementation of the Inherent Right and the Negotiation of Aboriginal Self-Government.
This policy provides for negotiated self-government arrangements that may include jurisdiction over education, language, and culture; police services; health care and social services; housing; property rights; the enforcement of Aboriginal laws; and other matters. Under this framework, the Government of Canada, in partnership with provincial and territorial governments and Indigenous communities, has undertaken processes to negotiate practical arrangements to make self-government for Indigenous communities a reality. Capacity building is central to these treaty-making, legislative, and policy initiatives. Canada is building institutions and governance models in the Arctic that will be responsive to the values of the region's Indigenous communities and other inhabitants.
Taken together, land claims and self-government agreements allow Indigenous communities the ability to decide on matters that affect their own lives and lands and to participate in co-management processes. Led by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the federal government consulted extensively with Aboriginal leaders at the national, regional, and local levels to develop the process for these negotiations. The land claims process has led to legislative and regulatory amendments, policy changes, and new land ownership regimes. The Inuit of Nunavut, for example, now collectively own over 350 000 square kilometres of land.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is independent of government and has responsibility for reviewing the performance of government policies, programs, and spending in relation to achieving its sustainable development agenda and for encouraging government, parliamentarians, and the public to support moves toward realizing sustainable development objectives.
The Commissioner monitors progress toward sustainable development and reports to the House of Commons each year. By providing parliamentarians with objective, independent analysis and recommendations, the Commissioner assists in overseeing the federal government's efforts to protect the environment and foster sustainable development. The Commissioner also helps make the Government of Canada accountable for its policies, operations, and programs related to the environment and sustainable development.
Canada's Domestic Efforts Towards Sustainable Development
As northern land claims and self-government arrangements have been evolving, the Government of Canada has embarked on the journey towards meeting its Rio commitments on sustainable development. Following Rio, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and the Projet de société were established. Government, industry, civil society, and Aboriginal organizations were brought together to review Canada's commitment to Agenda 21 and to canvass the range of options Canadians must confront in making the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle.
Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
As early as 1989, Indigenous, environmental, and conservation groups had called for the Government of Canada to strengthen performance and accountability on environmental and sustainable development issues. In 1995, an environmental equivalent to the Auditor General was created through important amendments to the Auditor General Act, establishing a Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development within the Office of the Auditor General of Canada.
This legislation required federal ministers to prepare sustainable development strategies for their departments and agencies, to table them in the House of Commons by December 1997, and to provide updates every three years. The amendments to the act adopted the definition of sustainable development set out in the Brundtland Report: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". The amendments to the act also created a statutory public petition process to allow for public input into environmental and sustainable development issues.
In 1995, the Government of Canada issued A Guide to Green Government to be used by federal departments and agencies in the preparation of their sustainable development strategies. The guide identified three main elements of sustainable development: quality of life, integrated decision making, and equity.
While most federal departments have some responsibilities for the North, there are several departments whose domestic and international mandates more directly impact on northern life. These include the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Health Canada, Transport Canada, Canadian Heritage, and Fisheries and Oceans.
Working Together: Strengthening Global and Circumpolar Cooperation
The Arctic accounts for almost two thirds of Canada's coastline - a coastline that is one of the longest in the world. Fisheries and Oceans (F&O) is committed to implementing its sustainable development strategy through shared stewardship and finding innovative ways to develop this approach. F&O enters into arrangements with Indigenous communities in the North to manage resources consistent with their treaty rights. The 1992 launch of the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy is an important example. Under the Oceans Act (1997), F&O has undertaken to develop a coordinated framework to protect the integrity of ocean ecosystems and engage the public, particularly Indigenous peoples, in the development of policies relating to the sustainable development of coastal resources. This is the first federal legislation to explicitly mandate a federal department or agency to consider and use the traditional ecological knowledge held by Indigenous peoples.
Experiences from the Canadian Arctic have much to contribute to international processes. Global and regional cooperation are key features in developing global and circumpolar strategies for protecting or promoting sustainable development in the Canadian Arctic.
Like other regions of the world, the North is affected by the activities of its many neighbours. Transboundary pollutants accumulate in northern waters, flora, and fauna, becoming more concentrated higher in the food chain. Some Inuit in the Canadian Arctic, for example, have elevated and worrying levels of certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals that have accumulated in their bodies due to their dependence on marine mammals as a dietary staple. Many of these pollutants originate from sources outside of the Arctic region, therefore, cooperation between countries globally is required to develop long-term solutions. The Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples have been actively promoting international action to address these global issues, highlighting the human dimension.
The Sustainable Communities Initiative is assisting Canadian communities to increase their capacity to plan and make decisions by providing access to information about natural resources and socioeconomic issues via the Internet. The program was initiated by the Government of Canada in partnership with communities across the country and all levels of government.
The information gathered by the communities is map-based and can be shared at the discretion of the community. Information generated by a community can be accessed in several ways: digitally on CD, electronically though the Internet, or on paper.
Long-Range Transboundary Pollutants
The Government of Canada and northern Indigenous communities share a deep concern for the effects of pollution on northern ecosystems and human health and have worked together with the international community in pursuit of legally binding treaties, both regionally and globally, to reduce long-range transboundary air pollution such as persistent organic pollutants. This also included federal funding of the Canadian Arctic Indigenous Peoples Against POPs (CAIPAP) to enable Indigenous peoples to play an active role in international activities to reduce such contaminants. A recent success has been the completion of a regional protocol on POPs to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The vulnerability of the Arctic and its Indigenous peoples to POPs has been noted in this protocol. Global negotiations sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme are under way toward an agreement on POPs. Indigenous peoples in northern Canada are working with the Saami Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Aleut International Association to promote a comprehensive and verifiable global POPs convention.
At home, the federal government has developed a unique partnership with northern Indigenous organizations to implement the Northern Contaminants Program. The program brings together federal departments, territorial governments, and Indigenous organizations working to reduce and, where possible, to eliminate contaminants in traditionally harvested foods and to provide information on their use.
The Inuit Circumpolar Conference began discussing climate change in its general assemblies in the 1980s. In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated for the purpose of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting their concentrations in the atmosphere. The UNFCCC provided a framework for international cooperation on climate change, but without binding commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing the need for stronger action to reduce these emissions, nations negotiated the Kyoto Protocol (1997), which sets emission limitations or reduction commitments for industrialized nations relative to their 1990 levels.
"The Arctic region, seemingly so pure, but already laced with deadly and invisible pollutants, has in my opinion become the canary in the mine shaft. If the canary survives, so can we all. If we can help people to see that a poisoned Inuk child, a poisoned Arctic and a poisoned planet are one and the same, then we will have effected a shift in people's awareness that will result without doubt in positive change."
-Sheila Watt Cloutier, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, June 1998
Implementation of these commitments is of great concern for the Indigenous communities of the Canadian North. There is mounting evidence that climate change, ozone depletion, and ultraviolet radiation have significant cumulative negative implications not only for the circumpolar region, its wildlife, and its peoples, but for the planet as a whole.
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity reinforces a growing commitment to sustainable development. The objectives of the convention are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from use of genetic resources. It is a legally binding global environmental instrument that notes the importance of traditional knowledge, innovations, and practices of Indigenous and local communities with regard to the in situ conservation of biological diversity.
Indigenous communities are represented on a working group created by the Government of Canada to provide input with respect to the domestic implementation of article 8(j) of the convention and the development of Canadian positions at international fora.
Canada and the European Union: The Issue of Trapping Standards
"Effects of global warming are already evident in the Canadian North. The average air temperature in the Mackenzie Basin is warmer (a 1.55°C rise since 1860) and the ice canopy covering the Arctic Ocean is thinner than in previous years."
-Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 1999 Report, para. 6.9
"Each Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and appropriate:.Subject to its national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application..."
-Convention on Biological Diversity, Article 8(j)
In 1983, international animal rights activists succeeded in having a European ban imposed on the importation of products from two nonendangered seal species. This was followed by a ban in the mid-1990s on the importation of products from the major wild fur species. Such trade bans have had dramatic and disruptive effects on many northerners, particularly in Indigenous communities where their livelihoods have traditionally depended heavily on sealing and fur trapping.
The Government of Canada, working with Indigenous peoples, took the trapping issue to Europe, lobbying for and achieving a Canada-European Union Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards in 1998. This is the first international agreement to establish scientific measurements for humane wildlife harvesting. It sets in place a process for introducing more humane trapping equipment in both Canada and all 15 member states of the European Union. The Government of Canada continues to seek the removal of trade restrictions that discourage the sustainable use of wildlife products from nonendangered species.
Indigenous communities have long recognized the benefits of circumpolar cooperation. In 1977, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) was formed uniting some 125 000 Inuit from Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and, more recently, Chukota, Russia. The ICC has promoted sustainable development since 1986 with its adoption of a framework document, Towards an Inuit Regional Conservation Strategy. In 1992, the ICC published Principles and Elements for a Comprehensive Arctic Policy, a document to guide its policy making in the Arctic. It is a critical document for ensuring that ICC decisions affecting the Arctic lead to sustainable development.
Other examples of Indigenous peoples' cooperation include the Polar Bear Management in the Southern Beaufort Sea Agreement (1988) between the Inuvialuit and the Inuit of Alaska, and the participation of Indigenous communities in the management of the Porcupine caribou herd and its range in Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.
Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs
In 1994, the Government of Canada demonstrated its continuing commitment to circumpolar affairs by creating the position of the Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs. The Ambassador's initial assignment involved the conclusion of negotiations with the seven other Arctic states (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation, and the United States) to establish the Arctic Council, which was inaugurated in September 1996.
The Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs acts as Canada's senior Arctic official participating in the ongoing work of the Arctic Council. The Ambassador consults with northern communities to understand their needs and how they can be translated into a Canadian circumpolar agenda.
The Arctic Council
The Arctic Council is a key element of Canada's sustainable development efforts in the circumpolar North. It is a high-level forum to advance circumpolar cooperation to address the issues of common concern to Arctic states and northern residents relating to sustainable development. The declaration establishing the Arctic Council provides Permanent Participant status for up to seven international Indigenous organizations from the Arctic states. Currently, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Aleut International Association are actively engaged as Permanent Participants. The Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat in Denmark is to provide support to them in their work at the Arctic Council.
A particularly innovative initiative endorsed by the Arctic Council is the establishment of the University of the Arctic based on distance learning technology and stressing the need for Indigenous peoples to learn with and from each other. The Arctic Council has a mandate to improve the environmental, economic, social, and cultural well-being of northern peoples. There are five Arctic Council working groups.
The Sustainable Development Working Group addresses a range of projects, such as telemedicine, ecotourism, fisheries management, and Arctic children and youth.
The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme monitors and assesses the effects of pollutants on the Arctic environment and residents, especially Indigenous communities, reports on the state of the Arctic environment, and gives scientific advice to ministers. This research provides most of the scientific justification of the need for international controls on sources of Arctic pollution. It has also provided the basis for regional protocols on heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants under the auspices of the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.
The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna working group's objectives are to enhance the conservation of Arctic species, habitat, and ecosystems; to integrate sustainable use into conservation work; and to integrate input from Indigenous communities and their traditional knowledge into that work.
The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response working group provides a framework for the Arctic countries to cooperate in responding to environmental emergencies and to review existing arrangements and recommend improved systems.
The Protection of Arctic Marine Environment program includes marine pollution prevention and control measures to protect the marine environment from land- and sea-based activities, complementing existing international agreements. The working group has prepared an evaluation of existing international arrangements and agreements as well as Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines.The Barents Euro-Arctic Council
The Barents Euro-Arctic Council (Barents Council), formed in 1993, is composed of governmental representatives from the member countries involved, including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, and Sweden, as well as the European Commission. There are a number of observer countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The foreign ministers in the Barents Council meet once a year.
A unique feature in Barents cooperation is the two-tier approach of the national level and the regional level. Effective cooperation is dependent on strong and active regional involvement. The Regional Council and its bodies have a vital role to play in reflecting the needs and concerns of people living in the Barents region, in fostering ties across borders, and in developing projects that have direct advantage to the region. The Regional Council serves as a forum for discussion of matters of particular interest to Indigenous peoples. There is a similarity between the sectoral focus of Canadian circumpolar interests and those of the Barents Council.
Taking Stock: Emerging Issues Into the 21st Century
The 1999 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development identified some successes and a number of ongoing challenges for the Government of Canada. A special study report on the Canadian Arctic was included to provide an overview of certain international environmental issues affecting the Canadian North and to identify lessons learned from the implementation of international environmental agreements and programs affecting the Canadian Arctic that could be applied to other areas.
The report took a regional perspective, focused on the Government of Canada's implementation efforts under four international agreements and programs directly relevant to the Canadian Arctic.
"Environmental and ecological systems in the Arctic are major contributors to global processes and the balance of life on Earth. Acting as a global climate regulator, they cool the air and absorb the heat transported north from the tropics by air and ocean currents. They also play a role in ensuring the circulation of warm and cold waters between northern and southern regions of the globe. The integrated nature of these global processes means that the Earth's climate and living systems would change if the Arctic's existing capacity to regulate temperature were altered."
-Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 1999 Report, para. 6.8
" a growing realization internationally that human activities, both in the Arctic and elsewhere in the world, affect the future sustainability of Arctic ecosystems. In turn, changes in the Arctic environment and ecosystems have an effect on other parts of the world. This awareness is reflected in an increasing number of environmental agreements and other arrangements to protect the Arctic, which Canada has signed or endorsed. It has also led Canada and the other circumpolar nations to collaborate in programs of extensive scientific research and monitoring in the North."
-Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 1999 Report, para. 6.4
These agreements fit into two categories: protection of wildlife and their habitat (the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat and the Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd) and transboundary pollution (the UNECE Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, not yet in force).
The wildlife management agreements demonstrate the importance of sustainable use of wildlife to the residents of the Arctic, particularly Indigenous communities. The agreements and programs addressing transboundary pollutants are of particular concern to a region whose ecosystems are vulnerable to the effects of contaminants transported from distant sources.
In relation to the Arctic, the Commissioner concluded that the Government of Canada has made a major contribution in the international efforts to enhance the understanding of the Arctic's unique environment and the actions needed to protect it.
To meet the commitments of the Government of Canada, Canadian scientists and program managers have been struggling with challenges that are not unique to the Arctic: the need for more and better scientific research and monitoring; better ways to manage jurisdictional complexity; and how best to develop a strong domestic regime for implementing agreements in the face of scarce resources and budget cuts.
In response to the Commissioner's report of 1999, the Government of Canada began the development of a coordinated Northern Sustainable Development Strategy. It will guide the ongoing efforts of federal departments and agencies in carrying out scientific research, monitoring, and other responsibilities in the Canadian North. Consultations on this new strategy began in November 1999.
There are issues that the Government of Canada and the Indigenous communities of Canada's Arctic will be facing in the near future as they implement sustainable development strategies. Following are some of these issues.
"The Government of Canada agrees with the [Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples'] conclusion that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people must work together, using a non-adversarial approach, to shape a new vision of their relationship and to make that vision a reality. In that spirit, Canada is undertaking to build a renewed partnership with Aboriginal people and governments."
-Gathering Strength, 1997
- The Indigenous population in Arctic Canada is much younger than the Canadian average. Generally, 50 percent of the population is under the age of 15 years. There will be tremendous pressure to create jobs in a region that also has a very high unemployment rate.
- This young population has little formal education, restricting opportunities even where jobs are available.
- The North continues to be heavily dependent on subsidies from the federal government. Creating a tax base remains problematic.
- The remoteness of the region contributes to very high transportation, energy, and communications costs and limited market access.
- Many northern communities are suffering from social problems, including frighteningly high rates of youth suicide.
- Strengthening the skills and knowledge necessary to maintain traditional activities as a viable lifestyle option is as important as ever.
The learning will be in the doing as the journey toward sustainable development in the Canadian North continues. Partnership and capacity building with Indigenous peoples are cornerstones of the Government of Canada's sustainable development strategies in the North. The Government of Canada is committed to building the foundations for sustainable development by working with Indigenous peoples as they create their own institutions and craft their own development models.
Aboriginal Self-Government: The Government of Canada's Approach to Implementation of the Inherent Right and the Negotiation of Aboriginal Self-Government. 1995. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Ottawa.
AMAP Assessment Report: Arctic Pollution Issues. 1998. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, Oslo.
Berkes, F., and H. Fast. 1996. Achieving Sustainable Development. In Aboriginal Peoples: The Basis for Policy-Making toward Sustainable Development, A Dale and J.B Robinson (eds.), ch 9. UBC Press, Vancouver.
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the House of Commons . Office of the Auditor General, Ottawa. Annual reports for 1997, 1998, and 1999.
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Inuit Tapirisat of Canada. 1996. The Inuit of Canada. Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, Ottawa.
Jensen, J., K. Adare, and R. Shearer (eds.). 1997. Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Northern Contaminants Program, Ottawa.
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McDonald, M.A., L. Arragutainaq, A Novalinga, and others. 1996. Voices from the Bay: Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay Bioregion. Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, Ottawa.
Meakin, S., and T. Curran (eds.). 1998. Inventory of Sustainable Development Initiatives in the Arctic.
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. 1999. Sustaining Canada's North: Aboriginal Communities and Non-renewable Resources Development . Progress Bulletin #2.
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