The Inuit in a Challenging World
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Feb 2007, p. 291-301
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Simon, Mary, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
Description
A bit of geography for those who may not be totally familiar with the Inuit regions of the Canadian Arctic. Comprehensive land claims agreements now completed in all of these Inuit regions. What that means for the Inuit. Using the capacity wisely and effectively. How we can all work together to improve the lives and well-being of northern residents while at the same time promoting the sustainable and equitable development of the Arctic. A prosperous Canada that must engage itself in ensuring that the Arctic and its peoples are also prospering. The speaker's responsibilities as President of ITK. What Canadians themselves know about the Arctic and its peoples. Distressing but unexaggerated stories from the Arctic. Another side to the story. Immense possibilities along with many challenges, with explication. The Arctic Council. Canadian sovereignty over Arctic islands and waters and the role of the Inuit. Resource development. Northern demographics. Education. Social problems. A collective responsibility to help Inuit youth re-develop the confidence that has been lost. The need for investment in infrastructure. The need for investment capital and financial services. The Partnership Accord with the federal government. The comprehensive Inuit Action Plan. The need for a clear signal that the federal government is prepared to move forward.
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15 Feb 2007
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
Mary Simon
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
The Inuit in a Challenging World
Chairman: Dr. John S. Niles
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Sylvia Morawetz, Principal, S.A.M. Solutions, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Duane McKenzie, Senior Student, George Harvey Collegiate Institute; Reverend Canon Kimberley Beard, Senior Pastor, St. Paul's On-the-Hill Anglican Church, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Paul Wells, Columnist, MacLeans Magazine; Susan Aglukark, OC, Singer/Songwriter; Clint Davis, National Director, Aboriginal Banking, BMO Bank of Montreal; The Honourable David Ramsay, Minister of Natural Resources and Minister Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, Government of Ontario; Charles S. Coffey, OC, Director, Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Ivan Wawryk, President and Project Director, Nasittuq Corporation; Jim Moore, Executive Director, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; Dorene Seltzer, Chair, Seltzer-Chan Pond Inlet Foundation; Frank Suraci, Director, Aboriginal Business, Siemens Canada; and Catherine S. Swift, First Vice-President and President-Elect, The Empire Club of Canada, and President and CEO, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Introduction by John Niles

Past Presidents, Directors, honoured guests, and members of the Empire Club of Canada:

In preparing this introduction for our distinguished speaker today, the relatively brief research I did showed me how little I really knew about our Inuit fellow Canadians. For instance, I did not know that the Inuit population is the youngest in Canada, and that their birth rate is twice as high as the average Canadian birth rate. These facts mean that health issues and other needs of Inuit are different from those of other aboriginal groups. Inuit have a very unique cultural identity that is significantly different from other aboriginal peoples in Canada. According to the 2001 census, about 70 per cent of Inuit can carry on a conversation in Inuktitut, and Inuktitut is one of only three aboriginal languages in Canada that is expected to survive over time. It was also interesting to discover that the establishment of Nunavut is viewed internationally as a very positive role model by other countries around the world. Clearly, there are many interesting aspects of Inuit in Canada that we all should be more aware of.

I am very pleased that our speaker today, Mary Simon, will be bringing us up to date on the current state of Inuit in Canada and the challenges they face. If I were to read all of Mary's bio, she would not have any time to speak so I have just chosen some highlights. Mary Simon is the President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which is the national organization representing Canada's Inuit. Her life's work has been to gain further recognition of aboriginal rights and promote the study of northern affairs. She was the Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade from 1994 to 2003, was the Canadian Ambassador to Denmark from 1999 to 2001, and has held various positions with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, being elected President in July 2006. She has received many honours for her leadership, including the Order of Canada, the National Order of Quebec, the Gold Order of Greenland, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award and the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. She has also received honorary doctorate of law degrees from McGill, Queen's and Trent universities.

Please join me in welcoming Mary Simon.

Mary Simon

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for such a flattering introduction.

It is a pleasure for me to be here today. I would like to thank our sponsors, the Bank of Montreal and Siemens Canada, for making this possible.

To begin, allow me to quickly provide a bit of geography for those of you who may not be totally familiar with the Inuit regions of the Canadian Arctic. Within the political boundaries of the Arctic, the Inuit occupy four distinct regions. From west to east these are Nunakput (the western Arctic); Nunavut (the central and eastern Arctic); Nunavik (northern Québec); and Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador).

All of these Inuit regions have now completed comprehensive land claims agreements. These include the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, and the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement. The Nunavik Land Claims Agreement covering an area offshore of Québec and northern Labrador has recently been signed. This will be the fifth comprehensive land claim signed between the Inuit of Canada and the Crown. The full and complete implementation of these agreements will be a continuing priority for Inuit.

These land claims agreements provide the Inuit in Canada with the capacity for shaping our lives and developing our lands. We own large parcels of land outright, some with full subsurface rights, and share in the management and benefits from natural resource development. We have access to investment capital and we are using it. We own airlines, fishing companies, transportation companies, service industries for oil and gas development and are joint venturing various business enterprises.

As leaders, we now also carry a great responsibility to use this capacity wisely and effectively. This is what I would like to discuss with you today: how we can all work together to improve the lives and well-being of northern residents while at the same time promoting the sustainable and equitable development of the Arctic.

Let me be clear at the outset. I firmly believe that a prosperous Canada--a Canada that will continue to show leadership based on the core values of democracy and humanity--must engage itself in ensuring that the Arctic and its peoples are also prospering.

One of my responsibilities as President of ITK--the national voice of Inuit in Canada--is to reach out and encourage partnerships and collaboration. Canada is an "Arctic Nation." The Arctic should not be an afterthought. It is a vital part of our country and its peoples contribute to the cultural and social diversity that we value so dearly.

But what do Canadians themselves know about the Arctic and its peoples?

Hardly a day goes by without a distressing story from the Arctic about a suicide or an act of violence. Many of you likely read the recent sobering front-page piece in the Globe and Mail--"In Nunavut an Epidemic of Violence and Despair." It would be comforting if I could suggest to you that the statistics recited were exaggerated. They are not.

There is however another side to this story. You may have read my Counterpoint in yesterday's edition of the National Post, trying to convey this precise point. At the same time, many Inuit are healthy and working very hard to re-build the vibrant society we once had and continue to value. We are looking to the future with hope and enthusiasm and are working to build a confident population and a self-sustaining economy.

I have always tried to look at challenges holistically. From this perspective I see immense possibilities along with many challenges.

Any strategy for promoting social, political and economic development must start with understanding these possibilities and challenges. Let me explain.

We have vast natural capital in renewable and non-renewable resources. Exploration and exploitation of this natural capital is really just beginning. Our challenge is to ensure that development is sustainable and that a fair share of these benefits remain in the Arctic, at the community, regional and territorial levels.

The resource management structures created by our land claims agreements provide Inuit and northern governments with a measure of control over how our lands and resources are to be developed.

For example, at the local and regional level, developers must now negotiate "Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreements" before development can proceed. Recent examples include the Voisey's Bay Agreement in Labrador and the Raglan Agreement in Nunavik.

These agreements provide significant employment, and financial, training, business and education benefits. These are not just "dollars and cents" arrangements. They also include support for education through scholarship funds and community wellness programs--a very important signal that development of the Arctic is not just about making money. It is also about investing in our people and our communities.

At the territorial level northern governments are looking to share in new taxation and royalty arrangements through devolution agreements with the federal government.

We are also facing growing global realities such as climate change, transboundary pollution and the geo-politics of Arctic sovereignty. Just this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fourth report concluding that human activities are a root cause of climate change.

Canada's environment minister has acknowledged the report and indicated the government will address climate change. We welcome this response.

We welcome the economic expansion in the Arctic promised by oil and gas, and mineral development. At the same time, we must all remain vigilant and be careful stewards of our natural capital and the environment.

Inuit are not newcomers to the politics and debate around climate change. Inuit have been pressing the climate change alarm for many years. The groundbreaking work of Shelia Watt-Cloutier, past president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, has put a human face--an Inuit face--on climate change that has garnered her a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

My own work as Canada's Circumpolar Ambassador and Senior Official to the Arctic Council has taught me that global and regional co-operation are key features in development strategies for promoting sustainable development in the Arctic.

For those of you not familiar with the Arctic Council, it is a high level ministerial forum for dialogue among the Arctic states including Canada, the U.S.A--which includes Alaska--Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark (which includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands), and Iceland. What makes the structure and membership of this international forum unique is that indigenous peoples play a full role at all levels of the Arctic Council. The council is also made up of northern indigenous peoples from each of these countries including Inuit from Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russian Siberia, as well as Dene, Gwitch'n, Saami from Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia, and other indigenous peoples from Russian Siberia. Global and regional co-operation are of paramount importance to this forum.

Take, for example, the emerging controversies over sovereignty in Arctic waters, with predictions of an ice-free Northwest Passage conjuring up images of a shipping free-for-all.

Canadian sovereignty over Arctic islands and waters rests very heavily on the unbroken history of Inuit use and occupation. Yet to date, the discussions pay little attention to the views or potential contribution of the Canadians who actually make up a large part of the Arctic--the Inuit.

Inuit have much at stake in these debates. Internationalization of the archipelago could mean a reduction and even collapse of Canada's ability to ensure safe and efficient Arctic navigation upon which northern communities depend. The Inuit homeland could be opened to a new risk of under-regulated tanker traffic and therefore pollution.

The legal and political reliability of various land claims provisions dealing with the rights and responsibilities of the Crown and Inuit to co-manage lands and waters could be compromised.

Next on my list is human capital. Northern demographics have been described as a "ticking time bomb." Over 55 per cent of the Inuit population is under the age of 25.

Former Justice Thomas Berger (who headed the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry and Report in the 1970s) in his recent report on the challenges of implementing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement has characterized the situation as "a crisis." He points out that only 25 per cent of Inuit children graduate from high school, and many of these graduates do not go on to post-secondary education.

The types of jobs where the need for increased Inuit participation is most acute--such as the executive, management and professional categories--have inescapable educational requirements.

Many of the social problems in the Arctic reinforce each other in ways that spiral into personal and community breakdown. For example, poor housing conditions contribute to poor learning environments and educational outcomes. Lack of employable skills make young Inuit alienated and frustrated. Substance and physical abuse follow. Problems feed off each other and the human toll mounts.

We have a collective responsibility to help Inuit youth re-develop the confidence that has been lost. While it is important to understand the processes that have led to this crisis, it is more urgent to advance progressive ideas on how we can turn the situation around.

The Arctic also needs investment in infrastructure. Lack of adequate infrastructure capital currently impedes development of viable small business enterprises that are so necessary for a strong and diversified economy.

For example, there is very limited road infrastructure in the Arctic. With the exception of part of the western Arctic, transportation is exclusively by ship or air. This results in very high transportation costs which further handicap business development.

Did you know that Nunavut, which covers approximately 50 per cent of Canada's land mass, has fewer than 25 kilometres of roads?

Inuit land claims organizations have made substantial investments in transportation, for example in the airline industry. Capital expenditures in infrastructure development are for the most part beyond their fiscal capacity. Roads, sea ports and other infrastructure can only be realized through partnerships with government and the private sector.

Finally, the lack of investment capital and financial services can be a severe limitation for the growth and diversification of regional Inuit economies. It is very difficult to secure loans or other operating funds given the risks involved. This is particularly acute for small business development--a sector that remains seriously underdeveloped in the Arctic.

New lending institutions are being supported through the land claims organizations in our regions, whose lending criteria are better suited to the needs and economic realities of the Inuit regions. However, it cannot be the sole responsibility of our land claims organizations to finance these institutions from our heritage funds.

Business financing is only one of the phases in the business development cycle. To be effective, business support services are required to cover all phases of Inuit business development.

We invite governments and financial institutions to continue working with us to develop new approaches to support the creation of viable regional development lending institutions and support services.

I have impressed upon you that Inuit and their organizations are active in the future development of the Arctic. We have made huge investments in human and financial resources into research to better understand the root causes of problems and implementing solutions. We have worked diligently with governments to shape new policies that will support positive change. We have invested heavily in social programs and physical improvements in our communities.

I started my discussion with our common challenges because I firmly believe that re-building healthy and sustainable communities and creating a vibrant economy in the Arctic is an urgent matter for Canada and Canadians.

How we collectively go about doing this brings in the myriad of issues confronting us--climate change, sovereignty, resource development, globalization, etc. These are all forces that are putting unimaginable pressure on northern peoples and confounding governments and industry locally, regionally and internationally.

Addressing the challenges I have discussed and realizing the human potential that exists in the Arctic will not be an easy task. We cannot do it alone.

In 2005, the Inuit of Canada signed a Partnership Accord with the federal government. This Partnership Accord calls for a new more positive relationship between Inuit and the Government of Canada. It also engages the government to work directly with Inuit on all matters that affect them and their communities.

At the core of this initiative is the recently completed comprehensive Inuit Action Plan which has been presented recently to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development--Jim Prentice. This plan recognizes the emerging global Arctic reality and focuses on the achievement of tangible and concrete results through the development of Inuit-specific strategies, policies and programs.

This action plan will convert the idea of partnership into focused initiatives that both improve the lives of Inuit and contribute to a stronger Canada.

What is needed now is a clear signal that the federal government is prepared to move forward. A good starting point would be a commitment in the next federal budget to build on the ideas in this Inuit Action Plan and negotiate a joint Canada/Inuit Action Plan.

In closing let me share this with you.

I recently received a copy of an open letter written by a young Inuk student. She attends an innovative school program in Ottawa called Nunavut Sivuniksavut. Here, promising Inuit students are provided a one to two-year college program to equip them to take advantage of the educational, training and career opportunities that are being created by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Government of Nunavut.

She was writing to provide another view on the distressing social problems confronting Arctic communities. In part she said:

"Sometimes I think we're too spoiled now; that we have too many choices, and that it's easy to fail--so it becomes commonly acceptable. The fact is, it is easy to fail, it is easy to give up, and it is easy to say, 'It'll be done by someone else.'

"It is much harder to take the initiative, it is hard to succeed, it is hard to stay focused, and it is hard to work.

"It is not hard to dream though. The power of dreams can be amazing. It's what drove people like Tagak Curley into creating ITC, and the right for Inuit to have their own voice, and name. It is what I choose to take advantage of to pursue a career as a doctor or a teacher.

"Dream bigger dreams than you can imagine. Be who you want to be, let nothing stop you."

I am re-energized by her insights.

As Canadians, all of us share responsibility for the social, environmental and economic circumstances of the Arctic regions. All of us in positions of authority and responsibility must work diligently and creatively to bring about the improvements that are required.

Meeting the pressing economic needs of Arctic communities especially those of the Inuit, while respecting sustainability principles, will continue to challenge northerners, governments and industry.

Let us join together in a concerted effort to take up this challenge.

Nakurmiik.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Charles S. Coffey, OC, Director, Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Inuit in a Challenging World


A bit of geography for those who may not be totally familiar with the Inuit regions of the Canadian Arctic. Comprehensive land claims agreements now completed in all of these Inuit regions. What that means for the Inuit. Using the capacity wisely and effectively. How we can all work together to improve the lives and well-being of northern residents while at the same time promoting the sustainable and equitable development of the Arctic. A prosperous Canada that must engage itself in ensuring that the Arctic and its peoples are also prospering. The speaker's responsibilities as President of ITK. What Canadians themselves know about the Arctic and its peoples. Distressing but unexaggerated stories from the Arctic. Another side to the story. Immense possibilities along with many challenges, with explication. The Arctic Council. Canadian sovereignty over Arctic islands and waters and the role of the Inuit. Resource development. Northern demographics. Education. Social problems. A collective responsibility to help Inuit youth re-develop the confidence that has been lost. The need for investment in infrastructure. The need for investment capital and financial services. The Partnership Accord with the federal government. The comprehensive Inuit Action Plan. The need for a clear signal that the federal government is prepared to move forward.