National Inuit leader urges Ottawa to do “aggressive” land claims implementation
"Aggressive implementation agreements would result in more productive relationships between Inuit and government"
If Ottawa’s work on land claims implementation were more “aggressive,” Inuit and the federal government would enjoy more productive relationships, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Terry Audla said Aug. 23.
That idea also came up at the Aug. 22 meeting in Rankin Inlet between ITK board members and other Inuit leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, members of his cabinet, and two Conservative senators near the end Harper’s six-day Arctic tour.
The meeting, called “historic” by ITK — and an “Arctic Leaders Working Meeting” by Harper’s office, went well, Audla said.
“We were able to give the prime minister and ministers responsible for Arctic files a true description and snapshot of Inuit issues related to resource development, economic development, and how aggressive implementation agreements would result in more productive relationships between Inuit and government,” he said.
Audla said Inuit leaders reminded Harper that economic development in the North and skills and development training are priorities for Inuit.
However, mental health was not a topic that was covered at the meeting, “based on the fact that if we get resources for economic development and aggressive implementation of the claim agreements, fixing up education and housing, then the hope is that it would work towards improving the social side of mental health issues, and the suicides rates,” Audla said.
“What we tried to do as Inuit was to [work] in a way that worked with the federal government with respect to the arctic strategy. We are trying to be strategic in that sense.”
ITK wants to work within that strategy, which calls for a “stable, rules-based region with clearly defined boundaries, dynamic economic growth and trade, vibrant northern communities, and healthy and productive ecosystems.”
Inuit are willing to work in partnership with the federal government on many key issues, he said.
“What we are about is working together… if there is any criticism then it is constructive criticism. At the end of the day we are working to improve the livelihood of the Inuit,” Audla said.
“We do need to buck up and take responsibility and start working together to address the social ills that Inuit are going through,” he added.
However, solving social problems isn’t going to happen overnight.
“Sometimes throwing money at the problem doesn’t necessarily solve them… it’s time to come up with some kind of holistic approach,” Audla said.
The need for Inuit-specific housing was also discussed, but too often “jurisdictional issues get in the way,” especially in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, he said.
Last, the group talked about marine shipping, search and rescue and enhancing the role of the Canadian Ranger Patrol.
“They more or less have terrain capabilities but for marine capabilities if they were equipped say with a high quality vessel of some type, to assist either the coast guard or search and rescue operations, defense… you know there’d be that much more eyes and ears not only on the ground but in the marine areas,” Audla said.
The next step is to continue talks “and to see how willing the federal government is to working with Inuit addressing a lot of the discussion points.”
Audla said he is confident that follow-up meetings with the prime minister and Inuit organizations will take place in the future.
“This has been the first time that a sitting prime minister has met with the Inuit leadership on their own, so I feel it was quite historic, and we hope to continue and repeat that.”
Nunavut MLAs were not present during the meeting, nor any premiers from Quebec, Newfoundland or the Northwest Territories.
Premier Eva Aariak met one-on-one with Harper Aug. 22, when they discussed “Nunavut’s priorities,” including devolution talks, and the need to get negotiations underway.