Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Ottawa September 26, 2016 - 8:30 am

Seven visions of the Arctic offered up at Ottawa event

"Just because you have sympathy for Inuit, does not mean that you have now become part of this reconciliation movement"

LISA GREGOIRE
Speakers at the Walrus Talks the Arctic event in Ottawa Sept. 22, from left: Fibbie Tatti, Jeffery M. Saarela, Clint Davis, Joel Heath, Natan Obed, Candice Lys and Kevin Kablutsiak. (PHOTOS BY LISA GREGOIRE)
Speakers at the Walrus Talks the Arctic event in Ottawa Sept. 22, from left: Fibbie Tatti, Jeffery M. Saarela, Clint Davis, Joel Heath, Natan Obed, Candice Lys and Kevin Kablutsiak. (PHOTOS BY LISA GREGOIRE)
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed told the audience that sympathy is not enough: true reconciliation for Aboriginal peoples in Canada requires action.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed told the audience that sympathy is not enough: true reconciliation for Aboriginal peoples in Canada requires action.
Joel Heath talks about the empowering benefits of combining traditional knowledge with modern technology.
Joel Heath talks about the empowering benefits of combining traditional knowledge with modern technology.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks with Clint Davis, board chair of the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies, at a reception following the Walrus Talks event.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks with Clint Davis, board chair of the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies, at a reception following the Walrus Talks event.

OTTAWA—When seven leaders in their field are given seven minutes each to share their vision of the Arctic, it’s surprising how much information they can deliver.

The Arctic is a place of incredible business opportunity and epidemic suicide.

The Arctic holds thousands of years of climate change data and a wildly unpredictable future.

The Arctic is cold, remote and biodiverse.

Its peoples are taking control of their lives using traditional knowledge, modern technology and sometimes both at the same time.

Arctic peoples are young, broken, hopeful, artistic, undereducated, versatile, resilient and both growing, as a population, more quickly than the rest of Canada and also dying younger, and more violently.

Those were some of the visions delivered Sept. 22 at a Walrus Talks event at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

Hosted by the Walrus Foundation, publisher of the Walrus Magazine, Walrus Talks are a kind of topical town hall meeting where magazine supporters and others pay $20 each to gather in urban venues to hear invited guests speak on a specific topic and then drink wine and socialize afterward.

Topics to date have touched on all aspects of society from the economy to politics, the environment, society, art, energy and human behaviour.

On the Arctic talk roster were a number of northerners and northern advocates:

• Clint Davis, board chair of the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies;

• Fibbie Tatti, Dene languages and culture advocate;

• Kevin Kablutsiak, former CBC Radio host, now executive director of the Arctic Inspiration Prize;

• Candice Lys, executive director of FOXY, an organization focused on young northern women’s mental and sexual health;

• Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami;

• Joel Heath, director of the Sanikiluaq-based Arctic Eider Society; and

• Jeffrey Saarela, the museum’s director for the Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration.

With a seven-minute limit to speak passionately about a place dear to them, there was no time for the audience to be bored in the museum’s grand, vaulted ceiling, third- floor meeting space.

The sold-out event drew about 250 Ottawans including Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Senator Pamela Wallin, United States ambassador Bruce Heyman and his wife, Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern and myriad other, mostly Caucasian, Arctic enthusiasts.

Since ITK has just released its Inuit-specific national strategy on suicide prevention, Obed took the opportunity to talk about the scourge of suicide among Inuit peoples and what non-Inuit can do about it.

“It is not acceptable that we still live in a time when professional sports teams can use derogatory names that we’ve told them not to use,” said Obed, speaking with neither notes nor multimedia aids.

“It’s unacceptable that corporations use our images, our language, our place in the world, in a disrespectful way to make money off the romantic vision of who they think we are.

“Reconciliation is not easy. Just because you have sympathy for Inuit, does not mean that you have now become part of this reconciliation movement. Reconciliation takes action.”

While others injected humour at times to entertain the crowd, Obed focused on blunt realities about how Inuit, a once proud and capable people, were forced to abandon their culture and language through residential schooling and then ignored by successive governments as the effects of their traumas took hold.

As a result, Inuit are sicker, they abuse each other, they fail in school and they kill themselves when they can no longer cope in the world, Obed said. They are Canadians but they are not equal, he said, perhaps in reference to his well-heeled audience.

“Social equity means building the Canada that we all think of, that Inuit are not a part of, as of 2016,” he said.

Kablutsiak, born in Arviat and seeming to pick up where Obed left off, said part of the problem is that Inuit used to rely on their senses and their memories to stay alive and maintain their capacity in a harsh climate. But most don’t get a chance to do that anymore, he said.

The Arctic Inspiration Prize, which gives away $1 million annually to teams of Arctic residents to gather Arctic knowledge and use it in real world applications, is one tool to encourage and enable northerners to look to their past for answers to today’s challenges.

“I have been inspired by the people of the North. I have been inspired all my life,” said Kablutsiak.

Other speakers went in different directions with their vision of the Arctic.

Saarela sounded the alarm about the Arctic’s rapidly changing climate and the need to record baseline information about the plants and animals there so future scientists can better understand the North’s evolving biodiversity.

Lys described the strength, resilience and creativity of northern Indigenous youth in her talk entitled “Everything I Thought I Knew about Teenagers.”

Tatti told the audience about how an interactive online mapping project has become not only a treasure trove of Dene place names, culture, history, environmental knowledge and language but a tool for Aboriginal self-determination.

Clint Davis, in a rapid fire, myth-busting, fact-laden speech about northern investment and opportunity, acknowledged that a huge infrastructure deficit does tend to deter northern development but that, contrary to what some might think, the Arctic is not too fragile for development and Inuit do want jobs and industry.

Joel Heath, whose award-winning film People of a Feather helped to bring international attention to the Arctic Eider Society’s fight to protect local culture, and the environment, against the impacts of hydroelectricity in Hudson Bay, spoke about new and on-going Inuit-controlled projects of the EIS.

Those projects include youth training and education, an interactive mapping platform where hunters and other contributors can upload and share information about land, water and sea ice and a new social media platform in the works for northerners.

Shelley Ambrose, Walrus Magazine publisher and host, thanked the speakers and sponsors when it was over and then asked Heath to put her in touch with some of his hunter friends.

The magazine is hoping to purchase walrus penile bones, she said, so they might be carved and given away as gifts to supporters.

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