Senior officials from the Nunatsiavut government, alongside representatives from NunatuKavut, the Torngat Secretariat, and the Torngat Fish Producers' Co-operative, met with federal and provincial officials in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on October 12, 2017, for a roundtable on the 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 for the framework
"You can say a lot of good things, but how do you put it into practice to make a difference for people?"
Participants were pleased to see their region included in these discussions, since this region is often excluded from funding and other opportunities because of the common definition of Arctic as north of the 60th parallel. They felt that Labrador is often grouped in with other Atlantic jurisdictions rather than being classified as Northern.
Participants noted that the most important element of any policy is implementation. Participants noted that they have been involved in many engagement processes, and have always discussed the same issues with few results. They would like to see the new Arctic Policy Framework result in real, positive change.
Participants expressed a desire for more transparency and improved communication from the government about who is responsible for what issue, and what are they working on. For example, if Transport Canada is working on a project in the region, they would like to know about it.
Participants noted that success will only come through collaboration between Indigenous, federal, and provincial governments, and that they would like to see this reflected in policies and the framework.
Participants stressed that the way program funding is made available must change, as groups are forced to expend substantial resources applying and competing for different funding opportunities. Instead of this fragmented approach to government funding, it would be better if governments utilized a more user-friendly system in order to foster greater opportunities and more collaboration. One particular suggestion was having a "Northern portal" where funding and delivery of services from all departments are concentrated in one space so that anyone can see what funding envelopes are available for different processes and for whom.
Participants liked the nation-to-nation and Inuit-to-Crown language that the Government of Canada is currently using, and encouraged the Government to use similar language in the framework. Nation-to-nation and Inuit-to-Crown thinking will help regional partners to take action on their own situation and needs. This will be particularly important for funding mechanisms. After all, participants noted, Indigenous people know the solutions; they just need the mechanisms, support and trust to do what is best.
Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure
"We're tired of being treated like third class citizens in our own country."
The high need for improvements to all forms infrastructure, from roads to energy, restricts the region from making progress on longstanding challenges. Infrastructure gaps even prevent Indigenous governments and local organizations from using the funding that they have been able to obtain. As such, improving infrastructure cannot be downplayed as a basic requirement.
Participants noted the central important of transportation, both marine and air, to people living and doing business in Northern Labrador/Nunatsiavut.
Participants noted that the proposal for a new improved airstrip in Nain has been continuously stalled and impeded by interjurisdictional logjam between the federal, provincial and Nunatsiavut governments over the last decade. Participants called upon these governments to work together to make improvements to the Nain airstrip and to air transportation infrastructure in the region more broadly speaking.
Participants discussed the need to evolve beyond the current Twin Otter service that utilizes short (less than 2,000 feet) gravel airstrips. These were a welcomed improvement in the 1970s, but are now out of date. In order to move beyond the current situation, the region needs lengthened paved runways with up-to-date navigational aids in order to improve safety and provide a reliable, frequent service with possibly larger aircraft.
Marine corridors also serve as a major form of transportation in the region, and should be better managed. In particular, improved ports could allow Labrador to become a gateway to Nunavut and the rest of the Arctic. Presently, if residents of the region want to go to Nunavut or Nunavik, they have to go south to go north. Other participants emphasized the importance of focusing on improvements to provide a higher level of service to residents of northern Labrador before considering how to provide additional access and services to the Nunavik and Nunavut regions.
Participants stated that marine service in the region has "gone backwards" and requires significant investment. They described marine travel as "our highway," equivalent to the essential importance of the Trans-Labrador highway to other Labrador residents and the importance of the Trans-Canada Highway to the rest of Canada. They described how the Labrador marine system was taken over by the provincial government from the federal government with funding made available by the Government of Canada, but noted that there have been no improvements to vessels, vessel scheduling or docking or other supporting infrastructure. Requests for proposals to provide an improved service were made in the last 5 years with no results. The situation is now stalled with services further deteriorating and participants noting that the region is waiting on the province to decide what will happen next. Participants further emphasized that marine transportation in the area is not an alternative transportation method but a necessity.
In conjunction with improvements to the marine transportation service, participants called for serious commitments from governments to provide a road network to Nunatsiavut. They noted that the Trans-Labrador Highway should be improved with better and safer road conditions and expanded to go through northern Labrador.
Participants discussed the use of snowmobile trails as a form of transportation infrastructure. This is important for Nunatsiavut as many people use existing snowmobile trails and this could potentially be explored further. However, it must be noted that with climate change, these trails are become more unpredictable and unreliable for some communities because they are not freezing up the same way.
Some communities in Labrador do not have running water or sewage services.
Communities need a reliable source of fuel. If a private fuel company pulls out of a community, this affects everything from being able to use one's skidoo to collect wood to obtaining transportation for medical evacuations.
Relying on diesel for fuel is very expensive and is not sustainable economically or environmentally. Instead, fuel must be reliable and affordable. Participants noted that the nearby Muskrat Falls project is generating energy but most of that is being channeled outside of the region.
Other participants stressed that rather than focusing on cheap energy, we need to push for green energy. Communities are currently running on diesel, so it should be a priority to explore clean energy options for this region.
The poor telecommunications services in the region (including on the southern coast) make even sending emails difficult for businesses and households. Important functions such as completing payroll have to be carried out early in the morning when internet service works best; other businesses still rely on communication by fax because they cannot send things by email. Getting connected to the fibre-optic cable would be a vast improvement.
The lack of mobile phone services in the region must be addressed as well.
Strong Arctic people and communities
"There needs to be more strength given by all governments around how we address these dynamic pieces that fit together and influence food insecurity."
Participants described how losing the caribou, which has been a major source of food for the region, has placed enormous strain on communities in terms of nutritional and emotional wellness needs, and has resulted in high rates of food insecurity.
Participants stated that food prices are too high in Labrador.
Not only is food not affordable, they noted that there is also an issue with access to good quality foods. Participants complained about the quality of produce.
Food insecurity is often linked to infrastructure issues, such as having physical space available to run food programming.
Participants were critical of the Nutrition North Canada program, describing what they saw as major issues and limitations with the program. Participants believe that communities are not reaping the benefits of the program. The program, they said, is currently structured so that wholesalers receive the subsidy, which affects whether consumers actually see the benefits of the program and also prevents retailers from being able to show the subsidy on receipts.
Food subsidies should also be on goods that northerners would realistically buy, such as tea, flour, sugar, rice, root vegetables and other staple goods, rather than, for example, unfamiliar fruits.
Participants believed that a separate country food program should be developed, one separate from the Nutrition North market retail subsidy, in order to meet community needs. This program could allow communities to share country food with each other. Community freezers also support access to traditional foods.
There is a need to look at smaller local food producers rather than large food producers from outside the region.
Due to government health and safety guidelines around commercial-grade kitchens, it is difficult to serve traditional country food at early childcare centres and long-term care facilities.
Another challenge is the limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which must be flown in due to transportation limitations, which is problematic for communities that do not have enough flights coming in.
Another way to approach food security in this region is by thinking about sustainability through agriculture. Participants believed that smaller community-driven initiatives would help provide locally produced food, so that communities do not have to only rely on food being transported into the region.
When looking at ways to address food insecurity, it is important to consider individuals who may not have working stoves in their homes, or the ability or income or nutrition skills to plan healthy meals in advance. On a fixed income, participants noted, it can be cheaper to buy your child a chocolate bar rather than an apple.
The nutrition education program that Health Canada provides as part of Nutrition North should be enhanced to ensure that families have access to better nutrition and nutrition planning skills, while also tangibly putting food onto people's tables.
It was also noted that the rest of Canada does not understand what it is like to live in this region, so there needs to be better education for all Canadians about food security and infrastructure needs in the North.
"Data drives money, but we can't get it."
Participants noted that data drives funding and programming capacity. Without it, the needs of communities cannot be met. Participants expressed the need for better methods for tracking health identifier data about who is using what health services.
Currently, the information collected by Statistics Canada is not disaggregated at the community level in a way that makes sense.
Participants noted the need to broaden understandings of health beyond the Western science definition. For example, connection to the land is important when thinking about mental health and well-being. Participants brought up the example of an elder-youth camp that was held out on the land, where youth (many of whom were in foster care) were able to interact with elders and traditional knowledge holders and live traditionally. Land-based programming has been requested for more Indigenous youth, but there is not enough funding to provide it.
Tuberculosis is still a significant concern for this region, as there have been major outbreaks. The face of tuberculosis, however, is now changing. Participants described how tuberculosis no longer only affects older adults with weakened immune systems. Now, tuberculosis also affects young adults and youth, which shows that the disease is active and being transmitted aggressively. Communities lack the health services required to address this.
Without access to health care services, those who are infected with TB are forced to go to Goose Bay for services such as chest x-rays, even if they are unilingual and have communication difficulties.
There is a need for infrastructure to support home care in the communities as the future of health care. There should be a review of funding available for home care.
High rates of suicide and intergenerational trauma are still a problem for this region. Communities in the region do not have access to mental health services, so people in need have to go to Goose Bay for treatment. Even the hospital in Goose Bay does not have infrastructure specifically tailored to mental health needs.
It was noted that there is also a need for more obstetricians for this region, as there is a high birth rate.
It was noted that health outcomes in Nunatsiavut are far below Canadian standards. There are high rates of chronic health problems in the region, including high rates of diabetes.
Participants urged the governments to develop a housing strategy with different options for the housing issues in the region.
The population in this region is growing, and as such, housing challenges will only get worse.
Due to over-crowding in homes, children are being removed from their homes by child services. More housing is needed especially for single parents who are trying to get their children back. Over-crowded households also affect how well children do in school, as they need a quiet place to study as well as a good night's sleep.
Housing for seniors is needed as well.
Young people who receive an education would like to move back to their communities, but are not able to because there is no housing available to them.
Land availability is also with a challenge for building new housing, as are utilities services such as water and sewage.
Housing is linked to health: when there is overcrowding in households, it is difficult to ensure people are healthy and well fed.
Concerns were raised regarding the federal approach of providing housing funding through the provincial government. Participants noted the funding does not trickle down to northern communities but is often invested in southern communities.
Education and skills development should be the cornerstone of all attempts to address social challenges.
Participants expressed a desire to bring the quality of education up to the same standard as the rest of the country. Currently, some young people need to take an extra three years of post-secondary training just to get into a post-secondary education program, because they have graduated from high school without the skills they need.
Participants expressed concern that the current education systems do not teach youth according to their learning styles, and there needs to be more research on how the youth in this region learn best.
Furthermore, access to local post-secondary training is important, since people in this region have to travel far to pursue higher education.
Currently, adult-based education is very expensive and has a high drop-out rate.
Early childhood education facilities face barriers due to the requirements for skilled workers and daycare licenses.
Participants support Mary Simon's proposal for a Canadian Arctic University.
Participants were critical of the lack of federal support for the National Inuit Education Strategy, and called upon the Government of Canada to assist in the implementation of the strategy.
Language and culture revitalization
Language, culture, and identity are important and need to be strengthened.
Sustainable Arctic economies
Participants felt that it is important to recognize that there has been a major transition from a former nomadic cyclical lifestyle to clock-based wage economy.
Strengthening broadband must be explored before even looking at other questions. Without this backbone piece, communities cannot offer extra high school classes, adult education opportunities, or make use of leading-edge technologies. Businesses would be able to accomplish much more with better Internet connectivity.
Furthermore, job seekers need access to internet to apply for jobs.
Participants noted that improving the airport in Nain is also important for economic development.
Building a road to northern Labrador would improve business development, as it would be easier for workers to get to business operations in those areas.
Some participants suggested that access to affordable energy is also important for businesses to bring down the cost of operations and help stimulate economic activity in communities.
Small businesses would also benefit from more access to capital and insurance programs, as insurance can be quite expensive for businesses in this region.
Participants noted the benefits of Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs), which are usually tied to very large projects, and suggested they should also apply to smaller scale projects. Participants suggested that IBAs could be used to build local economies, and that more use of these types of agreements by the private sector could have positive outcomes for the region.
With respect to the fishing industry, participants felt that this region is often left out due to the focus often placed on Newfoundland's fishery and the federal government's efforts in Nunavut. People working in the fisheries in this region have lost a lot due to government policies, a lack of resources, and the lack of consideration given to Labrador fisheries because the region is south of the 60th parallel. However, the commercial fisheries are one of the few resources that can be improved to directly benefit the people living here.
It would also be economically beneficial to get back some of the traditional economy, like seal hunting.
Participants felt that there needs to be more employment opportunities besides the public sector. For example, there are a number of seasonal jobs available in the industries, which need to be made more attractive for youth.
Participants noted that a lack of available labour and human capacity poses a huge problem. Because the available labour pool in each community is quite restricted, it is difficult to fill positions. Some participants also felt that there are challenges related to work ethic, which may stem from a lack of education and problems with the education system.
Improving access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education can improve job prospects. There are job opportunities for biologists and technicians in the region, but there is difficulty with respect to filling these positions.
Participants noted that due to current policies, people are on social assistance but not by choice. If their income is increased to a certain level (by gaining employment), they will lose access to their housing. These policies therefore stop people from moving forward.
Participants also felt that it is also important to situate the definition of wealth in regional values.
The Arctic in a global context
"This is our Arctic."
Participants noted that it is hard for Canada to be an "Arctic leader" when Canada`s Arctic people are among the most vulnerable in the circumpolar region. Participants argued that Canadian Inuit are the ``poorest, hungriest, coldest and sickest`` in the circumpolar region outside Siberia. Participants noted that the basic needs of Inuit are still unfulfilled and the focus needs to be on improving living standards.
When developing foreign policies, participants said it is important to ask what difference this will make for the people of the region, including in terms of housing, food and jobs.
When asked for suggestions on how Canada can leverage its Arctic foreign policy to help address basic needs at the community level, several participants noted that the federal government could do a lot more to promote seal-based products which were once an important source of income for Labrador communities. The industry has suffered due to environmental non-governmental organizations' campaigns that have successfully marketed sealing as a "barbaric practice" and sealers as "savages" to the international community. The brand for seal-based products has been seriously tarnished and prices have plummeted with little hope for prices to rise again unless the brand damage can be reversed.
As a solution, participants would like Canada to be more active in the international arena with a marketing campaign to change the narrative around the sealskin industry to highlight the sustainability of the industry, the healthy seal population, and how this is a traditional practice for Inuit. They acknowledged this will not be an easy task and will take a lot of work and effort to begin changing the narrative but they think the return of the sealing industry could help Labrador's communities become economically self-sufficient.
Several participants also raised the need for Canada to do a better job at defending Canadian sovereignty, especially in light of the opening of the Northwest Passage. Many participants noted that Canada has become complacent when it comes to asserting Canadian sovereignty and has been "letting things slide," partly through by allowing the Royal Canadian Navy to deteriorate over the past decades. Some participants felt that Canada needs need to provide the necessary support so that the Royal Canadian Navy can have a continuous presence in Canadian Arctic and coastal waters.
Participants noted the following points:
diplomacy and defence are important for asserting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic
investment is needed in new icebreakers to provide greater ability to patrol Canada's Arctic waters, and to provide platforms for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to perform much needed science on Arctic fish and mammal stocks
additional capacity is required to conduct science in our own Arctic
Canada needs to step up when it comes to setting fish quotas and wildlife management
the Canadian Rangers program should be expanded in the Arctic (the sovereignty and socio-economic benefits of the program were noted)
One participant suggested that the intellectual property rights for the hydrographic data on the Northwest Passage should belong to Inuit so they can become the "shipping tycoons" of the Arctic.
Participants noted that Newfoundland and Labrador, through Memorial University, is well positioned internationally when it comes to cold water technology. The federal government could do more to support cold water technology research at Memorial University and to promote these technologies internationally.
International issues also came up in the context of the region's infrastructure needs. The following points were raised:
better internet service could be secured by connecting Labrador to the fiber optic cable from Greenland that runs along its coast
the Rigolet port (which is ice-free year round) could be expanded so that it could be used as a regional shipping hub for supplying Canada's North and beyond
the Nain airport could be upgraded to allow it to provide direct access between Nunatsiavut, Nunavut and Greenland
Participants noted the importance of Inuit-to-Inuit cooperation through the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Inuit have been working together across national borders on topics that matter to them, such as shipping, business opportunities, and social/cultural issues.
Arctic science and Indigenous Knowledge / Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity
"In years past, we have been studied to death. It has always been taken away and used by other people."
Participants observed that the federal government struggles with the application of Indigenous Knowledge, and there is no transparent or clear understanding of how it is being incorporated.
As such, there needs to be a better understanding of how Indigenous Knowledge is understood and used by the Government of Canada.
For many researchers, Indigenous knowledge is not valued on the same level as Arctic science, and instead is treated like an add-on or a box that needs to be checked off. Many people do not understand how Indigenous Knowledge can complement science.
Canada needs to become stronger in science research, as participants did not think that Canada currently has the capacity to conduct all the scientific research that it needs to in the Arctic.
This region is well-positioned in terms of technology in areas such as cold water research, but it does not get much assistance to carry this research out and develop it on its own.
Participants stressed the need for more funding to support education programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
It is important to build the capacity of communities to carry out their own research, as community-driven research has scientific merit on its own, and would allow for the tracking of data over a longer term. Participants noted that if Canada had its own Arctic university, it would contribute to the development of capacity building for Northerners.
Setting the research agenda: research priorities
In the area of health research, data drives funding and programming capacity to meet the needs of communities. Stronger data support to track of how people are currently using existing health services would help justify programs and provide a useful picture of what is happening in the community. There are also challenges to gaining access to this data, and there is no real formalized process to do so.
Participants expressed interest in a regionally-run census about health care for the wellness of the community, so that communities are not inundated with survey after survey and perceived duplication of efforts could be removed. Whether this is through local offices or a research centre, local communities could gain the capacity to develop this data and decide how to share it with partners looking for this information.
Research is currently driven by academic institutions who do not necessarily share the same research priorities as the communities here, and local knowledge is not always acknowledged or taken into consideration. For example, people in this region had long suspected that Inuit people process food differently, but could not get anyone to listen. It is only now that a scientist is claiming the same thing that this idea is being taken seriously.
People in this region would like more research focus on the fish species in their region, such as char, and have been pushing for Fisheries and Oceans Canada to allow them to provide this input for its management plans. Science is very important for the fisheries, and should be fed by regional knowledge.
Participants noted that Indigenous and Northern organizations are excluded from accessing major research funding from bodies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Indigenous and Northern organizations are not considered eligible to receive direct support from federal research funding bodies, and as such, the research projects of Indigenous and Northern organizations need to be tied to universities – which are usually southern-based – in order to receive funding.
Indigenous organizations do not have a presence on the decision-making boards of many funding bodies like SSHRC, the National Science and Education Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, despite the fact that people have advocated this for a long time.
There needs to be more funding for Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous-led research.
It is also costly for people in this region to attend international conferences and workshops.
Regional organizations have established protocols for researchers who wish to carry out work in the areas, but it has been difficult to get the government to enforce these research protocols. Some researchers feel they can come into communities to do research without conducting the proper consultations.
Communities must be involved in the planning stage of research.
Research should also include hiring a local community researcher to continue the work. This local component is already built into the local research protocol, but researchers do not follow it.
The results of research must also get validated and communicated back to the communities.
Accessing research results
Research should generally be accessible to the communities and should be shared.
There is a need for more data, but accessing the existing data out there is a challenge.
Ice reporting services
The importance of Environment and Climate Change Canada's ice reporting services for local communities and industry was noted.