Seal of approval: Nunavut MP leaves tie for U.S. president
“It would be great to see a picture of him wearing it"
Those famous sealskin ties that Nunavut MP and federal fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo wore in Washington, D.C. March 10 are about to get a little more famous.
Tootoo decided to leave one behind, as a gift for President Barack Obama.
According to media reports, the state dinner Tootoo attended March 10 marked the first time in 19 years that a sitting United States president has hosted a Canadian prime minster and his delegation for dinner — and it was only the 11th state dinner for Obama since he took office in 2009.
When Tootoo shook hands with Obama, the president remarked on Tootoo’s sealskin tie, the minister told Nunatsiaq News March 16.
“That first morning, out on the South Lawn, when [Obama] was introduced to me by the prime minister, he said, ‘That’s a nice tie. I’ll have to get me one of those.’ So I said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ And I left him that tie.”
He didn’t actually get to hand it to Obama. You can’t just hand things to the President of the U.S.
So he gave the tie, made by Carol Tootoo, to Obama’s secret service personnel who promised to pass it on to the president.
“I told him in the reception line at the state dinner that he would be getting it, along with a couple of Nunavut Legislative Assembly ball hats,” Tootoo said. “It would be great to see a picture of him wearing it.”
While the tie is beautiful and handmade, the president might be reluctant to wear it in public: the U.S. has banned the importation of sealskin products since 1972.
Tootoo was permitted to enter the country with seal skin because of his Aboriginal status.
Tootoo was in Washington for meetings and functions with the president and his officials as part of an official delegation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau and Obama held a news conference and released a joint statement of intent March 10 that focuses on the Arctic — climate change, the health of northern peoples and their economy, and the protection of northern waters.
Tootoo said Arctic issues, at the forefront of such a high profile Canadian visit to the White House, are finally getting their due attention.
“To me, it was historic to have that stuff in there,” he said.
“It put the Arctic, it put the North in the spotlight and I think gave us a basis to come up with ways to move forward and address these challenges we face in Nunavut.
According to that joint statement, the two nations promise to address a number of Arctic issues from mental health and wellness, protecting Arctic biodiversity and supporting northern economies.
That last promise, regarding the economy, came with some specific goals related to Tootoo’s fisheries department.
Obama and Trudeau promised to develop shared standards on low-impact shipping corridors through the Arctic archipelago; push for a binding international agreement to prevent fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean; and, apply “science-based standards” to any potential oil and gas development in the Arctic.
The Central Arctic Ocean — sometimes referred to as the “donut hole” — is an unregulated section of the Arctic Ocean that falls outside the Arctic nations’ 200-mile fishing limit.
For now, it’s frozen year-round but as the climate warms, its waters will become increasingly ice-free will likely attract commercial fishing interests.
Tootoo said until more is known about the health and make-up of the fish stocks at the top of the world, no country should be allowed to fish there.
The five Arctic nations have already agreed on a voluntary fishing ban there but there is no binding international agreement yet.
Canada will host the next round of global negotiations this year on fishing policy in the Central Arctic Ocean, but Tootoo said he wasn’t sure where or when those negotiations would take place.
When asked whether he supports oil and gas development in the North, a controversial idea for people who worry about oil spills and other industrial impacts, Tootoo deferred to the Liberal mandate.
He said his government is beefing up environmental control measures to allow for that kind of development.
“Development and the environment go hand in hand. We need to find a balance. We need to be sure we have an assessment regime in place that Canadians are confident in to allow for whatever type of development it is,” he said.
“We’re developing a new environmental regime that Canadians can trust.”
Tootoo also weighed in a declaration on climate change mitigation released March 4 by Canada’s premiers, which tempers its language to give northern jurisdictions a break from the heavy lifting.
The three northern premiers went into that Vancouver first ministers meeting publicly opposed to a carbon tax, since such a tax on fuel would unfairly burden northern governments — especially Nunavut, which relies entirely on diesel fuel for energy.
It appears someone was listening.
The so-called Vancouver Declaration said Canada will transition to a low carbon economy through, “a broad range of domestic measures including carbon pricing mechanisms,” and that any future climate change plan would take into account, “the realities of Canada’s Indigenous people and Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.”
“Premier Taptuna was happy coming out of that ministerial, so I think his concerns were addressed,” Tootoo said.
He said the declaration is proof his government is willing to work with northern peoples and incorporate their unique circumstances into policy.