Representatives from the Nunatsiavut Government, the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies, local businesses and the community of Nain joined federal and provincial officials in Nain on October 11, 2017, to discuss the co-development of Canada's new Arctic Policy Framework. To protect the privacy of participants, the names of individuals are not disclosed, except where permission to be quoted has been obtained.
Overarching themes and messages
"Canada needs to understand that Inuit have goals too, and support them in that."
The participants expressed their appreciation that the federal government is engaging with them in an inclusive manner, describing this as a step in the right direction for the Canadian Arctic.
However, participants want to see a clear commitment from governments (both provincial and federal) to ensure that the new Arctic Policy Framework is not simply a paper exercise, but that it delivers meaningful results.
Participants described how the Nunatsiavut region is often excluded in discussions about policy and programming for the Arctic, due to the tendency to define the Arctic as north of the 60th parallel. Participants welcomed the framework's broader definition of the Arctic region, which includes Nunatsiavut.
Participants noted that the unique Inuit language and culture must be prioritized in the development of the Arctic Policy Framework, and emphasized that land claim agreements must play a central role in the framework as well.
Participants emphasized the importance of the implementation and evaluation of any new policy framework. There must be mechanisms of accountability built into the Arctic Policy Framework, given the multiple jurisdictions and players involved.
Participants felt that it would be useful to have clarity on which government departments and jurisdictions would be responsible for the various aspects of the framework. Northerners do not want to see departments and governments "passing the buck" back and forth. Instead, participants noted that there should be a mandate built into the framework to ensure that all government departments are required to carry out the implementation of the framework.
When implementing land claims agreements, impact benefit agreements, and the framework, parties should look at the intent behind documents rather than solely focusing on the letter of the documents.
When the government makes decisions and creates policies that affect Northern communities, it is essential that those communities be consulted, even if the issue is about matters that are technically outside of the geographical borders of the communities in question.
Participants emphasized that it is also important to take a holistic approach to developing the Framework. Participants pointed out that issues cannot be organized into siloes in the North, because everything is connected.
Participants pointed out that "in the end, people need to eat and have houses." If meaningful progress is not made under the framework, the situation in Canada's Arctic will be the same in 2030.
Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure
Participants noted that the Nunatsiavut region has many infrastructure needs that must be prioritized.
The lack of infrastructure hinders economic and social development in the region.
Participants called for a context-specific approach, arguing that what works in the south, or even approaches that work in other Northern jurisdictions such as Nunavut, do not necessarily work in Nunatsiavut.
Participants pointed out that any technology used for infrastructure in local communities should be easy to maintain, rather than involving sophisticated technology that, when in need of repairs, will require a community to wait for a specialized technician to be flown in.
Participants believe that the new Arctic Policy Framework should focus not only on new infrastructure but also on maintenance and upgrades of existing infrastructure.
Sea ports and marine services in Nunatsiavut must be upgraded. Participants described how current port facilities are too small, deteriorating, and do not have the capacity to keep up with freight demand. When there is a problem with marine transportation, this has a ripple effect that impacts a broad range of issues.
Participants emphasized that the air strip in Nain must be brought up to modern standards. Currently, they noted, it does not have lights and is too small, which makes it dangerous for planes and helicopters to fly in at night. If the weather is bad, the planes cannot land at all.
Nunatsiavut communities would like to be connected by highway to the rest of Labrador.
Ice is critical infrastructure for Inuit as it serves as a type of highway for this region. Climate change has affected ice as a mode of transportation in Northern Labrador. The region has lost much of its sea ice, and the impacts of climate change in Labrador have been substantial. Given its central role in the lives of Inuit, ice must be addressed in the framework.
Participants stated that emergency response infrastructure must be improved.
Given poor lighting conditions on air strips, participants noted that planes can only take off and land during the day, preventing medical evacuations from being carried out after dark.
There is no local infrastructure available to immediately respond to an oil spill incident, which is a major concern because Inuit rely on the land and water to feed their families. The closest search and rescue and emergency response is located in St. John's.
Participants underscored the need for a marine safety and air safety plan.
Participants noted that one approach to consider would be the implementation of a local, all-Inuit emergency response initiative similar to the one that exists in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.
The availability of safe and healthy water infrastructure affects a community's ability to expand. Some communities have water supplies that were originally meant for a much smaller population.
Participants noted that the federal government`s carbon tax will affect communities that depend on diesel, and will drive up the cost of living. As such, they advocated that the heavy impact of the carbon tax on diesel-dependent communities must be considered in the framework.
Participants noted that it would be useful to reduce reliance on diesel for energy in favour of more renewable resources for energy security.
Internet service must be improved as, currently, it seriously inhibits economic development. Participants noted they still rely on fax as internet is not reliable enough. Often, people need to send emails in the early morning as service is not reliable during the day. It is normal for it to take one or more days for emails sent from Nunatsiavut to reach their destination.
Canada Post rates in the North have increased significantly. There was a suggestion that rates be subsidized.
Strong Arctic people and communities
"Climate change is not something that is in the future. It's here now."
Participants emphasized that if basic needs for health and housing cannot be met, then other aspects of socio-economic development cannot be undertaken. As such, issues like food security, housing and education must be prioritized, within a holistic approach.
Climate change has had a direct effect on the people living in this region. Participants described how people plan their entire day or week around the weather. As such, mitigation and adaptation to climate change is essential for strong Arctic communities.
It is essential to understand the situation of poverty in this region, and to develop a plan for poverty reduction. Participants said that this should include establishing local offices to assist people in applying for benefits and services that they are entitled to but may not be aware of.
Participants described how all of the communities in this region have levels of household food insecurity that are at least twice as high as the national average.
Participants emphasized that a lack of country food is at the core of food insecurity. People in these communities have mainly been hunters and gatherers, and have traditionally stocked their freezers with their own meat.
Winds of 100km/h used to be unusual but are now normal. These windstorms affect hunters' ability to harvest.
Participants described how, now that the caribou are declining, people have to replace their traditional diet with store-bought food.
Unfortunately, participants noted, food prices at the store are too costly and have risen.
Participants were critical of the Nutrition North Canada program, arguing that that the program is based around an idea of retail competition that is not a reality in this region. Participants described how, in Nunatsiavut, the Nutrition North Canada food subsidy is applied at the supplier level, with local communities unable to see the application of the subsidy on their receipts.
Participants said that Nutrition North Canada subsidies for their region are smaller than in other parts of the country.
Participants felt that Nutrition North Canada does not support the harvesting/sale of country food in their region. To be eligible for the subsidy, country food must be processed at government regulated facilities that meet specific inspection requirements, and the only two such facilities are in Nunavut.
Participants noted that people with a higher income can afford to adapt to changes in the availability of food, but people with lower incomes depend on country food. Elders are some of the worst affected by food insecurity.
Although northern communities in other regions are forced to have all of their food flown in, shipping is an option in the Nunatsiavut region because the shipping season is longer. Consequently, improving shipping infrastructure could ease food insecurity concerns by supporting the shipping in of more food products.
Participants noted that with the declining caribou herd, there are options to hunt other things like moose, but one requires a license to hunt moose.
The decline of the caribou herd and traditional harvesting have had a major impact on the community's mental well-being, given how hunting used to be the main source of protein and a family/group activity. People have mentioned that they simply do not feel good anymore since the caribou have gone.
Participants pointed out that another way to address food security is related to developing better infrastructure: Nain needs physical space to set up and deliver food security programing.
The housing shortage is a major concern for the Nunatsiavut region.
Much of the technology available for housing development is outdated and irrelevant to the needs of this region. Conventional methods for building houses are not working, especially as the climate changes, so it is important to re-design the approach to building houses.
Nain is also running out of space on which to build houses.
Not only is it costly to build houses in this region, but there are other costs related to housing development which must be considered, including the development of serviced land on which houses can be built.
Participants noted that funding arrangements between governments must be re-examined to meet the true cost of housing. In particular, per capita-based calculations do not work in the region.
Senior care homes should be developed in order to provide assisted living services for seniors. Currently a large proportion of the population of seniors must go to southern communities to receive care in facilities where they cannot receive services in Inuktitut nor have access to country food. Local seniors` facilities could also open up housing for younger families and create jobs and economic growth.
The housing shortage affects employment opportunities and economic development. Participants noted that it will be difficult to retain young people and qualified workers in the region's communities if they do not have a place to live, or only have the option of staying in already overcrowded homes.
Participants stated that initiatives to alleviate the housing shortage should involve direct investment in the communities to allow them to lead the work.
As noted in the Mary Simon's report, many participants agree that education is the cornerstone to empowering Northerners to care for themselves.
Participants stated that the current kindergarten to grade twelve system does not work for this region, but noted the huge effort required to bring about change.
Participants called upon Canada to implement the National Inuit Education Strategy.
More school buildings and training spaces, at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, are needed in order to support community-based educational programming.
Funding for childcare and early childhood education needs to be increased.
Participants noted that daycares only run during the school calendar year and not during the summer, a period during which there is a high need for childcare. The summer months are a time when many parents work and engage in traditional activities such as hunting.
Participants were also critical of the fact that country food cannot be served in daycares as a cultural activity, due to food inspection requirements.
Language and culture revitalization
One participant noted "we should be in panic mode" regarding the loss of Inuktitut.
Participants described how language is an important part of the culture of the community, but it is being lost at an alarming rate. Language, they noted, is very personal, a key element of Inuit culture, and intricately linked to a healthy community. Once a language is gone, it cannot be recovered. Participants emphasized that this aspect of the land claims agreement must be a priority for implementation.
There is a shortage of language teachers available to teach Inuktitut in schools. This is particularly difficult because of the requirement for language teachers to have a teaching certificate.
Similarly, the Nunatsiavut government has difficulties filling positions for translation and interpretation.
Participants argued that, while the provincial government can work on improving education, the federal government should look at how it can contribute to language revitalization. Federal agencies active in the North have an important role to play in preserving Inuktitut.
For example, government can support elder-youth camps on the land, allowing knowledge sharing about language and culture similar to the programs being supported by Parks Canada at Torngat Mountains National Park.
More investments should be made for "language nests" in daycares, similar to the strategy that the Maori people used to revitalize their language.
Participants noted that there should also be monetary incentives for employees who are fluent in Inuit languages, similar to federal government programs to promote bilingualism in French and English.
There should also be language programming available to government employees so they can become fluent over time.
The justice system
The availability of legal services and improvements to the infrastructure supporting the justice system are important issues.
Participants described how, in some communities, the circuit court only comes every six weeks and is sometimes held in places like the bar of the local hotel.
There are concerns about whether individuals going through the criminal justice system understand the processes they are going through, due to issues such as poor translation services.
More can be done to serve victims in the justice system and there should be some accommodation for victims in policies and planning. For instance, in at least one community, the probation office is right next to the victim services office, so there is a potential for offenders and victims to cross paths. The length of court processes can be an issue, as cases keep getting pushed back for issues such as lack of legal counsel. Prolonging these processes can be very stressful for the accused, as well as for the victim.
Funding community programs
There is a need for more funding opportunities that are specific to the Northern context. Community organizations are often forced to try to fit into federal processes that do not have an Inuit Nunangat lens and do not reflect the actual needs of the North.
Participants discussed the merits of equality and equity models for funding Indigenous groups. They noted that using a per capita funding model is unfair in the Arctic context as the cost of living is much higher in Canada's Arctic while the population is much lower in comparison to the south. This leads to unequal outcomes.
Funding application processes can be time-consuming and onerous for Northern organizations that already have staff capacity issues and limited time and resources. Sometimes the language and reporting requirements of government programs are so difficult that the dollars may not be worth the amount of time required to write the applications. Suggestions included simplifying the application process and having a central repository for all Arctic-related funding opportunities.
It is important to look at actual costs to determine funding levels in order to have successful programs. Instead, programs end up being run on a deficit.
Participants commended the approach of some programs at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in moving away from calls for proposals towards considering funding applications on a rolling basis, but believe more can be done.
Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies
Small and medium-sized businesses have challenges regarding access to capital.
Participants noted that there is a lack of banking services in this region.
Loan programs for businesses have had mixed success in the past, but the federal government might be able to develop a more successful approach to this type of program.
For major projects in remote places in Canada where the government offers tax incentives and grants to large businesses, the government should attach specific requirements for local partnerships in order to involve local communities and community businesses.
Participants noted that communities in this region are the most highly taxed in the country through the harmonized sales tax, due to the high prices. Harmonization taxes should be equitable, rather than using a cookie-cutter approach.
Participants also noted that despite high taxation rates, communities in the region receive few government services.
Participants emphasized that the government must live up to the land claim agreement and impact benefits agreements regarding capacity building for Northerners in the federal public service. It is essential to help maintain and develop the pool of Northern workers that can be employed by the federal public service. Suggestions include:
making the language and application processes of government job postings less foreign to Indigenous applicants
providing opportunities for workers to enhance skills while on the job
There was a suggestion to prioritize local/Indigenous companies in federal procurement as a way to help with local economic development. They noted a specific example related to procurement for the clean-up of the Distant Early Warning line in which the federal government went with a lower bid from a large U.S. company rather than a Canadian-led Inuit bid that would have ultimately led to better outcomes in terms of local employment and procurement.
Economic development is closely tied to infrastructure, because infrastructure plays a large role in encouraging businesses to open in the region.
Infrastructure is currently one of the biggest hindrances to economic development. If someone is trying to start a business, just trying to get materials into the community and have the power to run the operation is challenging.
Participants also noted major challenges related to limited human resources. There is a need for skilled educated workers in these communities but the availability of skilled workers is limited.
Participants described how seasonal work in Canada's Arctic is customary and should be treated differently than in other parts of the country.
The need for insurance is also a large inhibitor for businesses. Participants complained that the government will not give funding for what local businesses actually need. The Government of Canada will provide funding for initiatives such as capacity building or workshops, but what local businesses need is group insurance and micro-loans.
Arctic science and Indigenous Knowledge
Participants noted the importance of acknowledging the role of Indigenous Knowledge and knowledge-holders. They described situations in which researchers come in from outside of the communities and fail to give credit to local sources of knowledge. As a result, many people have stopped assisting researchers, though this situation is changing now.
Five to seven years have been invested in scientific research for the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, but there needs to be an equitable approach to Indigenous Knowledge as well.
It is also important to recognize that Arctic science and Indigenous Knowledge are two different systems, and one should not be forced to fit into the other.
Participants felt that the starting point for change is to have Canadian institutions that sincerely believe that Indigenous Knowledge is equal to science, rather than seeing Indigenous Knowledge as a footnote.
Setting the research agenda: research priorities
Inuit self-determination in research means researching the issues that matter to Inuit. As part of reconciliation, there should be a mechanism for Northerners and Inuit to feed into research priorities.
The government has an obligation to monitor the environment in the north, especially focusing on pan-Northern baseline research for climate change, incorporating Indigenous knowledge and capacity building.
Baseline data is needed for virtually every environmental area in this region. Participants described the current state of knowledge as "a big black hole."
Participants noted that when people talk about climate change in the Arctic, they usually think about the natural environment of the high Arctic, but they do not think about how people are affected by climate change. The framework must include the knowledge that is held by the people living through these changes in this region, in order to pass on the message that climate change is real.
Participants discussed how there is a tendency to depend on academia for research, but this approach does not reflect northern priorities. For example, there is research on sea ice, but insufficient research on the impacts of sea ice on Inuit.
Participants mentioned their interest in gaining more information about marine life as well as bird migration patterns.
Research is valuable when it produces hands-on products that fix a problem to the benefit of the community.
It was suggested that Inuit should get exclusive rights to Arctic hydrographic data, so they can have some measure of control over the vessels coming through the regions, and possibly even become the "shipping tycoons" of the North.
There was interest in having more surveys similar to the Aboriginal Peoples survey and the long form census, in order to have continuous long-term data that could help provide the statistics needed.
Participants emphasized the idea of research supported by Inuit, rather than research about Inuit.
Participants stated that research should indeed inform policy, but argued that it has to be research that includes Inuit and Northerners, not just academics.
Participants noted that many of the experts on the Arctic highlighted in the media seem to be non-Inuit, but argued that "Inuit are the original scientists as knowledge holders, and should be included in research projects from day one."
Parks Canada described their operations at Torngat Mountains National Park, which is co-managed by an all-Inuit board that sets the research priorities within the park. As a result, the research in the park is Inuit-focused and led in partnership with the Nunatsiavut government and Makivik Corporation. They bring in Elders, build capacity through a youth program, and disseminate the research in plain language. It was suggested that this is a model that could be expanded upon.
Participants emphasized the key role that partnerships should play in research, particularly as a form of capacity building in the short term.
Furthermore, academia and government departments like to use metrics such as peer-reviewed publications to measure the quality of research, but this is of less relevance to communities.
Capacity building efforts in research tend to measure, for example, how many graduate students are being trained, but we also need to look at measures such as what are the benefits to the community, and how many Inuit are being trained?
Implementation of research should also include Inuit.
Participants warned that Northern-led projects do not necessarily mean Indigenous-led, so it is important not to confuse those metrics.
Inuit-informed research will also reduce costs, because rather than flying outsiders up to the region, one can make use of local people who know the area.
The Nunatsiavut region has a research advisory committee that researchers must go through to get approval to conduct research; this provides the ability for government to ensure that projects are sent out to the appropriate people who need to be informed.
Education plays an important part in self-determination and capacity building for Inuit as researchers. Participants noted how it is curious that graduate students come to the region to do research for a few weeks at a time and then go on to get Master's degrees and doctorates as well as produce publications; in the meantime, local people in the region support these research projects on an ad-hoc basis for years without getting any accreditation or other forms of stepping stones towards career development.
Dissemination of research is also important: Canada is very effective at upscaling knowledge to the international level, but ineffective at downscaling. It is important to ensure that the same information is relayed to the communities for their use.
Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity
Participants noted that it is important to look at the eco-system as a whole, not individual pieces as silos.
Participants felt that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been determining what the conservation priorities should be, but do not actually relate those priorities to what Inuit are concerned about, focusing instead on waters hundreds of kilometres from their area.
Conservation officers in this region do not have any enforcement powers for protecting wildlife and fish. Power should be given to local Inuit governments to enforce regulations to avoid a free-for-all of over-harvesting.
Participants commented that it would be useful to look at new species moving to the Arctic (such as striped bass) and how those species are interacting with the region, as well as how it will impact the Arctic. It would also be helpful to know where migratory birds are going, as this is currently a knowledge gap.
Participants discussed the recent announcement to develop and co-manage marine protected areas off Labrador's northern coast and explore new tools such as Indigenous protected areas. They touted the initiative's benefits including how it will be led by Inuit, protect nearshore areas and assist with local economic development. The framework should recognize and empower the processes in place to deal with Indigenous protected areas. Participants commented that it is obviously important to protect the environment, but warned that if the themes and goals under the framework are too broad, then there is a risk that specific issues will be lost.
Participants urged that resources and funding must come with announcements under the Framework, such as for training and research; otherwise Framework initiatives will not be as useful as they could be.
The Arctic in a global context
"In terms of Canada being an Arctic leader, it sounds very honourable, but what Canada has to look at is how well their Arctic people are doing, before talking about being a world leader."
The federal proposal to "position Canada to fulfill its role as an Arctic leader" was questioned by participants given that, in their view, Canada's Inuit are the worst off socioeconomically in the circumpolar region with the exception of Siberian Inuit.
A key issue is climate change and the opening of the Northwest Passage to increased shipping traffic. This could be a benefit (improved access to world markets) as well as a threat (potential for oil spills from transport of oil and other dangerous goods) to the region.
Given the opening of the Northwest Passage, participants noted a need for more local capacity to deal with search and rescue and emergency response. They noted that the nearest emergency response capacity is in St. John's which could result in substantial delays in dispatching responders in the case of an emergency.
Participants noted that, as the Arctic becomes more ice free, there will also be a rush to access Arctic oil, so it is important to clarify Canada's policies on these issues. Participants discussed the importance of government looking at the Arctic through an Inuit lens, as a place where people live, and not just a place for unconstrained resource development.
Opportunities were flagged for Canada to pursue a free trade agreement among northern regions and/or Inuit-to-Inuit free trade. For example, it was noted that there are current restrictions on the import/export of certain wildlife products.
Participants emphasized that Indigenous Knowledge should be considered when defining Canada's Arctic's boundaries.
In terms of the process of developing the new Arctic Policy Framework, the Government of Canada was encouraged to engage the Inuit Circumpolar Council for input on international issues.