Canada’s 150th birthday was celebrated with fireworks and special events — but birthdays are also a time for reflection. This momentous year was an opportunity to reflect on the impact of climate change on the North, the need to protect the natural environment and the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples because of past injustices.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that completed its work in 2015 opened up a new space for dialogue, shedding light on the need to repair relationships between South and North. The commission concluded that residential schools played a major role in severing the relationship between Inuit and the land, an injustice that continues to have social and cultural impacts, such as higher suicide rates, poverty and an erosion of language and collective identity.
The TRC also observed the view that reconciliation has an environmental component requiring action.
“Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, from an Aboriginal perspective, also requires reconciliation with the natural world. If human beings resolve problems between themselves but continue to destroy the natural world, then reconciliation remains incomplete. This is a perspective that we as Commissioners have repeatedly heard: that reconciliation will never occur unless we are also reconciled with the earth.” Truth and Reconciliation Commission Principles, p.123
In April 2017, Inuit leader Mary Simon, who was appointed Minister’s Special Representative for Arctic Leadership, released a report that speaks to the need to support the connection between Inuit and the land. It says that “the biological abundance of the Arctic must be protected for future generations to benefit from and there is an expectation that Arctic conservation is tied to building and maintaining strong and healthy communities.” Simon says that “there is a distinctive moment building where the right leadership could spark a conservation paradigm shift in the Arctic.”
And there are signs of that kind of change:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Inuit leaders partnered to establish an Inuit – Crown Commission in February 2017 to renew the relationship between Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (national Inuit organization) and the federal government with the goal of addressing past wrongs and creating prosperity for all Inuit. This builds on the Prime Minister’s commitment to a new Arctic Policy Framework.
- The Qikiqitani Inuit Association and the federal government announced boundaries for the proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area in August 2017, a major step toward finalization of what will be the country’s largest protected marine area.
- The Nunatsiavut Government of the Labrador Inuit announced a partnership in September 2017 with the federal government to work toward protecting their marine zone and a coastline longer than the state of California.
- A permanent Arctic Gallery opened at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa that was developed in collaboration with Inuit. The exhibit includes a dynamic space for Inuit voices and perspectives to be heard and presented.
Iconic Arctic wildlife like polar bears, narwhal and beluga whales have long been an integral part of Canada’s national consciousness. But today, they are also a reminder of the need to protect the natural wealth of the North that has been home to Inuit for thousands of years. We can be inspired to learn more about the North and push our leaders to follow through on their commitments to Inuit, including protecting the wildlife they depend on and which we all value.
Paul Labun is a policy adviser for Oceans North.