Interim report on the Shared Arctic Leadership Model

ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ (Inuktitut version)

From Mary Simon, Minister's Special Representative
Submitted October 31, 2016

The opinions and views set out in this independent report are those of Mary Simon, the Minister's Special Representative on Arctic Leadership. They are not necessarily the opinions or views of the Government of Canada. To obtain a copy of the interim report in Innuinnaqtun, please contact us.

Table of contents


I am pleased to provide an interim report on my activities since being appointed Special Ministerial Representative to Minister Bennett on August 5, 2016 for developing a Shared Arctic Leadership Model. Phase I of this initiative has involved preliminary engagement with a broad spectrum of leaders and specialists in Canada's Arctic (See appendix 1 for summary). The engagement process is far from complete, with more detailed discussions planned for Phase II.

Let me begin by saying that the Trudeau-Obama statement on a new Shared Arctic Leadership Model offers real promise in its scope and in its focus on a collaborative process. Taken seriously, alongside the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls To Action, it will open a new chapter in Indigenous to non-indigenous relationships and partnership. In my own leadership experience, inclusiveness can foster great collaboration and true reconciliation. I have repeatedly heard our Prime Minister reiterate his desire to "reach out, listen and learn". It is in that spirit that I accepted the mandate as Minister Bennett's Special Advisor and set out to engage with elected northern leaders and their senior staff, scientists, representatives of industry, non-government organizations, and youth on a new vision for the Arctic, beginning with a discussion around defining new conservation goals.

For Phase I of this initiative, Minister Bennett asked me to "develop advice on new ambitious conservation goals for the Arctic in the context of sustainable development". Later in this report I outline some bold actions that the government could pursue in furthering a goal of new conservation goals for the Arctic.

Conservation begins with strong healthy people and communities

I want to caution you that conservation was not what the majority of northerners I spoke to wanted to talk about first. While conservation concerns inform many aspects of northern land claims agreements, Arctic peoples and their representative organizations and governments are far more preoccupied with issues related to supporting strong families, communities and building robust economies.

The simple fact is that Arctic strategies throughout my lifetime have rarely matched or addressed the magnitude of the basic gaps between what exists in the Arctic and what other Canadians take for granted. Closing these gaps is what northerners, across the Arctic, wanted to speak to me about as an urgent priority. Reconciliation is inextricably tied to this reality. A new Arctic Leadership Model, if it is to separate itself from many previous and earnest documents on the future of the Arctic, must address these basic issues of human rights.

Nowhere was this perspective more compelling than in my meetings with youth from four schools across the Arctic in a video-conference forum. I was inspired with the level of engagement and commitment of young people on issues such as food security, environmental protection, suicide prevention, education, language and cultural protection, housing and not surprisingly, closing the digital divide. Conservation was viewed through the lens of building healthy communities, protecting indigenous culture and identity, and ensuring abundant wildlife is available to future generations.

I should also note these current matters continue to be at the top of every agenda no matter where you go in Inuit Nunangat (all four Inuit regions). Leaders, families, youth, elders and other community members bring these issues up with passion and often desperation.

For example, in my discussions with the Nunatsiavut Government the subject of Muskrat Falls was foremost on the minds of the members. The apparent contradiction between energy initiatives and the health and wellbeing of local peoples defies logic. Within my own region, Nunavik, and in the James Bay region, the physical and psychological ravages of methyl-mercury contamination are well-documented. In this atmosphere, it is challenging to ask leaders to think big in terms of conservation goals.

As directed in my mandate letter, I will examine the broader social, economic and environmental issues in Phase II, however it is important to note from the outset that it is the urgent issues around education, mental health services, lack of basic infrastructure, food security, and the importance of honouring land claims agreements, that northerners consider the top priorities. These broader issues are by no measure secondary concerns for northerners. No single remark drove this point home to me more during my initial consultations with northern leaders than when I was told "conservation is not sustainable if surrounded by poverty."

The conservation record in the Arctic

To inform my discussions on setting new conservation goals, a set of maps was generated based on existing information on protected areas in the Arctic. This was helpful in clarifying where future conservation efforts could be focused. From this exercise, it is evident that land-based conservation initiatives in the Arctic such as the establishment of parks, biodiversity reserves and sanctuaries, most in the context of constitutionally-protected land claims agreements, have resulted in land conservation measures that already exceed national standards. It was generally observed that territorial government leaders want to resolve outstanding devolution issues prior to discussing new land-based conservation initiatives, while some land claims organizations want assurances that Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement frameworks will guarantee benefits that more effectively link together management and monitoring, training, jobs, service delivery and business opportunities. 

Marine conservation opportunities

Marine conservation initiatives in the Arctic, in contrast, have not kept pace with land conservation. Inuit, for example, have identified, through their own planning processes some 20% of the total marine area as "areas of significance" to them. Governments, through a mix of planning processes have identified 55% of the marine area as areas of marine significance, 12% of which directly overlaps with the Inuit areas. Yet, less than 1% of marine areas have legislative protection.

There are ongoing discussions about marine protection in the Arctic. For example, the Pikialasorsuaq Commission (North Water Polynya) seems well positioned to become a candidate for a new marine conservation initiative between Greenland and Canada. The Nunatsiavut Government has prioritized developing a conservation vision for their waters. Lastly, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association highlighted the importance of completing Lancaster Sound as a National Marine Conservation Area.

One other thing is clear. There is a deep body of local knowledge, applied science and experience in the Arctic on the value of these conservation initiatives that can lead policy and practices going forward. There is also a great deal of emerging thinking and practice linking the protection of the environment with the wellness, resilience and adaptability of northern communities. 

Innovative new thinking on conservation

In our preliminary consultations, we heard of innovative conservation programs, policy, and legislative tools to strengthen the role of protected areas in the context of the sustainability of communities. In research commissioned for this first phase of our work, one of those instruments was examined in greater detail—the Indigenous Protected Area. This is the idea of a protected area explicitly designed to accommodate and support indigenous interests. This kind of designation has the potential to foster a "conservation economy" where natural and social capital is restored rather than depleted. This will support communities and individuals in regaining land-based life skills, reconnect with their cultural traditions, collect indigenous knowledge, and have the confidence that there will always be 'places that are theirs'.

Some examples of programs in support of a conservation economy include:

  1. the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
  2. the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve
  3. Australia's Working on Country Indigenous Ranger Program
  4. the Indigenous Leadership Initiative's work to create a National Indigenous Guardians Program, and
  5.  the reconstituted legal status of Te Urewera National Park in New Zealand.

The background report on Indigenous Protected Areas examines the significance of Canada becoming the first country in the world to have a legal mechanism to formally recognize Indigenous Protected Areas. I am of the mind that there is a distinctive moment building where the right leadership could spark a conservation paradigm shift in the Arctic.

The process of establishing conservation goals

I would be remiss if I didn't report that the record of establishing conservation areas in the Arctic has had mixed results because of a burdensome process and poorly developed benefit frameworks. It has not always been clear if benefit agreements tied to conservation initiatives have helped adjacent communities and those living closest to the land. Examples were provided to me, such as the coming marine protected area in Darnley Bay, Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam, Northwest Territories, where these agreements are non-existent. There are concerns that when potential benefits agreements for affected communities are narrowly interpreted it presents a significant obstacle to fostering a sustainable economy in the Arctic. The issue becomes increasingly complex as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, and Environment Canada and Climate Change do not share a whole of government approach to conservation benefits frameworks and agreements.

Recommendations on setting new conservation goals

Base on my work to date, with the caveat that I will bring a final recommendation based on a completed engagement process March 31, 2017, I am comfortable identifying three action areas that would support a new, ambitious Arctic conservation goal.

  1. The Government of Canada should move forward on planning with land claims organizations for the identification of candidate marine areas for conservation.
    1. The government's commitment for protecting 10% of the Canadian Arctic Ocean by 2020 remains an ambitious but achievable target if federal agencies prioritize expedited planning with Inuit land claims organizations for rich biological areas already identified by Inuit communities, land claims-based planning processes and government agencies.
    2. As the process moves from identification of areas to negotiation of their designation, the government should explore with Inuit a package of uniform, innovative benefits that link together management and monitoring with training and service delivery to ensure jobs for Inuit in nearby communities.
  2. The Government of Canada should move forward on identifying the policy and legal measures that would be required to establish Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) for new ambitious marine conservation goals.
    1. Concurrent with the work on achieving the 10% goal, the government should consider creating an overarching IPA umbrella that would articulate how marine conservation can be sustained under a new, shared vision in the Arctic.
    2. A key element of IPAs to be explored should be building up and knitting together the innovative management and monitoring training and jobs that should initially be created under the 10% goal into an Arctic-wide coastal stewardship program.
    3. The government should identify options for a stable source of future funding for IPAs that reflects the role Inuit would have in stewardship of these important Arctic Ocean areas for all of Canada.
    4. Monitoring jobs created in this context should be designed with an expansive and inter-departmental approach. While these jobs would be created as part of conservation areas, monitoring needs of other federal and territorial agencies could also be met (e.g. Transportation, Fisheries and Oceans, Defence), thereby creating efficiencies and promoting local provision of services that historically have been dominated by southern-Canadian resources and expertise.
  3. The Government of Canada should expedite the process of completing Lancaster Sound as a National Marine Conservation Area using the expanded Qikiqtani Inuit Association boundary.
    1. Lancaster Sound, Tallurutiup Tariunga, is one of the most culturally and ecologically significant areas in the Canadian Arctic. It is commonly referred to as the Arctic Serengeti.
    2. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association has proposed an expanded boundary of 109,000 square kilometers that alone would achieve nearly 2% of the government's commitment to conserve 5% of Arctic waters by 2017.

Other recommendations

As noted earlier, many of my discussions regarding setting new, ambitious conservation goals in the Arctic quickly shifted to broader policy discussions related to a new Arctic Leadership Model. I have noted several core themes emerging that I will examine in greater detail in Phase II:

What comes next?

From now until February 2017, I plan to complete the second engagement phase of this project. To this point I have been unable to schedule meetings with a number of Inuit, First Nations and Métis leaders as well as the Yukon and Newfoundland governments, so these will be my immediate priorities. I also want to work with the secretariat in developing a database of stakeholder meetings and written submissions to facilitate analysis for the final report.

I continue to be encouraged by the discussions I have had thus far, but there are many other stakeholders still to reach, and others whom I must return to for more detailed discussions. As an example, I have had preliminary discussions only with the Northwest Territories so follow-up meetings will be scheduled at the earliest opportunity. This is no simple task and I am not searching for consensus, though my goal is to hear a representative range of views.

While conservation was the focus of this initial phase, I view my work as an opportunity to assemble opinions on how a new era in conservation and sustainable development in the Arctic can form part of the government's commitment to achieve real reconciliation with indigenous peoples. The long history of colonialism and abuse is not easily erased. Reconciliation must focus on building trust, developing stronger and equal relationships, and fostering genuine respect for indigenous cultures, traditions and aspirations. Without a healthy, confident, and optimistic northern population, there will be no sustainable and equitable development and no reconciliation with the Arctic's indigenous peoples.

Appendix 1: List of completed engagements from August 5 to October 31, 2016

I have developed, and pursued an engagement plan with a broad spectrum of leaders and specialists in Canada's Arctic. The engagement process is not complete and many important organizations have not yet participated. This summary reflects in-person engagements only.

Appendix 2: An executive summary of a report "Examination of the Concept of an Indigenous Protected Area and its Possible Application in Canada's North, Specifically in the Context of Marine Areas"

This report examines the concept of an indigenous protected area (IPA) in the following contexts:

  1. the commitments of the Government of Canada to the theme of reconciliation between settler society and the indigenous communities of Canada
  2.  the Government's commitment to the creation of additional protected areas, especially marine protected areas in the Arctic, and
  3.  the Crown's duty to consult and accommodate in relation to the creation of a new protected areas and the similar duties reflected in modern land claim agreements.

The IPA concept has been popularized in Australia. While the term is not used in legislation it has been an important policy concept which brings together the interests of Commonwealth and state governments in completing and expanding and protected area networks and Indigenous land management aspirations such as 'caring for country' maintaining a 'healthy country' and for the well-being of their inherited landscapes. While early IPAs were based on aboriginal title lands, some IPAs recognize an indigenous interest in relation to lands not subject to aboriginal ownership. Some IPAs extend to marine areas. IPAs have been used in relation to existing protected areas and new protected areas. The IPA concept is a flexible vehicle which may be implemented through a number of different legal techniques including:

  1. the use of aboriginal\indigenous specific designation in a state or Commonwealth protected area statute,
  2. the use of an existing designation under state or commonwealth protected area legislation combined with an appropriate management agreement and perhaps a leasing arrangement, or
  3. a specifically tailored statute to address the issue.

Common features of the program include explicit recognition of aboriginal involvement in the dedication, protection and management of the site, and other related activities including naming and funding to enable Indigenous peoples to negotiate enhanced engagement in the management of existing government declared national parks and other protected areas.

Similar concepts exist in other jurisdictions. A particularly notable and far reaching example of joint designation comes from New Zealand where Te Urewera National Park has been re-constituted by legislation as a protected area in its own right, with its own sui generis legal status and capacity. Its new legal status acknowledges the bi-cultural status and significance of the area.

There are three principal options under federal law for the creation of a marine protected area (MPA) in Canada:

  1. s.35 of the Oceans Act,
  2. a protected marine area under the Canada Wildlife Act, and
  3. a national marine conservation area (NMCA) under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act.

For the most part, the governing legislation makes no reference to the active engagement of Indigenous communities in the creation of MPAs. While this may (and indeed does) occur as a matter of policy and practice the legislation fails to recognize and celebrate the important role that indigenous communities might play in the creation, management and protection of MPAs. The NMCA legislation is a partial exception to this but even here the legislation does not expressly contemplate, for example, the joint dedication of protected areas or the bi-cultural status of such areas. None of the statutes make any express provision for financial support for indigenous communities with respect to the discharge of stewardship and other related responsibilities for MPAs. Again, this may and does occur as a matter of practice, especially as a result of the IBA provisions of land claim agreements but these ideas are not reflected in the legislation. The innovative arrangements developed for Gwaii Haanas confirm that indigenous communities and government can reach beyond the thin provisions of the applicable statutes and use the vehicle of agreements (and\or treaties) to adopt concepts such as mutual and reciprocal dedication of protected areas, shared responsibility for and management of protected areas and benefits arrangements. But there is value in explicitly recognizing these ideas and mandates in legislation. Explicit recognition serves to give clear policy and budgetary direct to department officials and allows the endorsement and celebration of Indigenous involvement at the highest legal level.

Arrangements between the provinces and the federal government (e.g. the arrangements for Saguenay-St. Lawrence) may also be worth scrutiny as examples of shared dedication and custodial responsibilities.

The report recommends that the ideas and objectives underlying the IPA concept are worth exploration and consultation with indigenous communities, territorial governments and stakeholders to address the extent to which the concept may help address the twin objectives of reconciliation and attainment of protected area goals while observing constitutional obligations under the general law and under the terms of applicable land claim agreements. A key objective of consultations should be to identify how, if at all, and to what extent, the ideas and objectives underlying the IPA concept add value to existing arrangements, particularly those embedded in land claim agreements.

The ideas and objectives underlying the IPA concept may be operationalized in a number of ways including a new IPA-specific statutory designation. The report does not favour this approach since it may undermine existing designations and statutory options and initiatives and make it more difficult to meet protected area objectives. The report does recommend exploring the systematic amendment of federal marine MPA legislation to explicitly acknowledge indigenous interests. Key ideas might include the joint nomination of candidate sites; adoption of management plans and benefits plans by agreement or consensus; naming and language issues; recognition of informing principles including reconciliation, joint stewardship, reciprocity, bi-cultural, responsibility to future generations, respect for indigenous knowledge, stewardship practices and laws; continued use by indigenous communities; benefit and management plans to address the full suite of issues and opportunities drawing on best practices from modern land claim agreements and other jurisdictions including IPA policies in Australia; identification of relevant IUCN category of protected area and a commitment by both parties to maintain that status. Many of these ideas and concepts are already embodied in policies and practices but a key objective would be to recognize and embed these ideas in legislation as a vehicle for public and national recognition of the importance of Indigenous involvement in Canada's network of protected areas.

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