Minister Bennett’s speech to the Arctic Circle Assembly

On October 14, 2017, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, spoke at the Arctic Circle Assembly.

View the video on Vimeo or read the transcript below.


Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson:  We introduce to you Minister Carolyn Bennett from Canada. And as most of you, if not all of you, are aware, the new Parliament in Canada led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, since it took office mapped out new policies, new visions, different approaches not only to climate change and the Arctic, but also to the position of Indigenous people and societies and cultures across Canada and the Northern territories as well as a model for other parts of the Arctic.

To some extent, we could call it a political experiment in the best sense of that word because by permitting the government, the new Parliament of Canada to these approaches and this journey, they are also creating a model for others. And that is why we are extraordinarily pleased now that the Minister was able to join us here and we hope that her speech this afternoon will be a beginning of an extensive dialogue with the Government of Canada in the next coming assemblies as well as in other activities of the Arctic.

So it is of paramount importance that those who are mapping out new ways and new (inaudible) for the future of the Arctic have the opportunity to share the lessons and the policies on the vision with this (inaudible) international audience. So while I express again my gratitude to Minister Bennett, I hope that all of you will find this a great opportunity to get a greater understanding of the visions of the new Government of Canada. Minister Bennett. (applause)

Hon. Carolyn Bennett:  Thank you so much, and distinguished guests and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, firstly we, from Canada, want to thank Prime Minister Benediktsson for his warm welcome and hospitality. Very special gratitude to Chairman Grimsson, for your vision and ongoing leadership.

This conference has been called the Davos of the North and I think we all know why. On behalf of Ambassador (inaudible) and Special Envoy Dion and the over 70 Canadian delegates for us, I think it's not surprising that the love of the Arctic and the interest in the Arctic is so contagious. It's, for us, truly wonderful to be here learning from all of you so that Canada will be able to play its part in this shared vision of the top of the world which, every day is becoming more and more inspiring and increasingly important to global sustainability and prosperity.

Our friend, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, captured the spirit of the Arctic when she said the land, ice and snow is a training ground for developing your sense of self and your character. You're being taught patience, you're being taught to be courageous and bold at the right time. We are all here today to dream in technicolour about the future, to work together for a prosperous Arctic, in economy and culture across nations and borders, but to be deliberate, courageous and bold.

It is why this assembly is invaluable or why I'm very honoured to be here speaking as Canada's first ever Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. My mandate is to change the relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis nation to a relationship that's based upon the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. As Inuit leader Nellie Cournoyea said almost 50 years ago, paternalism has been a total failure, and 40 years later or more, we're finally going to listen as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People has articulated more formally, but what really means to Indigenous people nothing about us without.

So Canada is an Arctic country, although unfortunately, very few of our citizens ever visit the North. Nonetheless, as Canadians, an understanding that we are in our nation is imprinted in the Canadian psyche. It even says in our national anthem, the true north strong and free, and we have the iconic caribou on our 25 cent coin. In schools, in museums, in our  media, we see images of the land, the sea and the ice and the snow that share our understanding about what is it, it is to be a Canadian and that vision as an Arctic nation.

Years ago, my brother-in-law, John O'Brien, a art historian, University of British Columbia, explained that the famous Group of Seven artists, Lorne Harris and A.Y. Jackson had been invited onto the Coast Guard icebreakers to paint our North as an expression of Canadian sovereignty. The Group of Seven works defined a popular imagination of the Canadian landscape and yet, finally in the 1960s, the Inuit artists began to reflect their homeland, the Inuit Nunangat, throughout Canada and explained it was more than just a landscape.

Kenojuak Ashevak, the Inuk who helped form the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative, established a thriving art industry in Cape Dorset on Baffin Island. Her iconic piece, the Enchanted Isle, got, drew another northern vision for Canada, one of boldness and strength and rich tradition and culture. And more recently, northern art has, has highlighted the real struggles of the North.

Annie Pootoogook, who sadly passed away this year in Ottawa, did not shy away from the difficulties in the Arctic. Her works show violence, domestic abuse, alcoholism, food insecurity, the types of problems that all of us here know must be addressed for the North to be prosperous.

The south often doesn't understand the Arctic because they do not live in the Arctic. They conceptualize it, visit it, even romanticize it through its art, but there are things you have, need to live to understand. Unfortunately, too many think they can import southern solutions to problems they don't really understand, and northerners have been very clear, northerners need to lead. They want Indigenous Knowledge to be respected. They want to be able to ask the wicked questions, (inaudible) important research and they want to set their own priorities.

And for any of you who haven't yet met the Mayor of Iqaluit, Madeleine Redfern, you'll know that if there's clear priorities, connectivity, a deep water core, an Arctic university, these are the things that they want to set as their priorities and our job is to actually help them achieve that.

Last month, I visited the exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which is a collaboration with our Canadian Museum of History on the ill-fated Franklin expedition. It was truly impressive. The curators have done an amazing job taking us into that time, but importantly into the perspective of Inuit. There was a 100-year old recording which was so revealing. The Inuk elder's voice described their first impression of the strange people that had been handed down through their oral history.

Three times in this very short tape, it said and their hats weren't attached to their coats. And then he said again, and their hats weren't attached to their coats. And it was, it was no wonder, it explained to me why the Inuit were more than skeptical about these foreigners who came to their land. And, and to me as the Minister, why, why it is so infuriating to Indigenous people in our country that the settlers thought their ways were superior.

So it's no different now. The inspiring President of the Inuit Kanatami Tapiriit, Natan Obed, continues to remind us that the solutions are here in the North. He is asking us to use our imagination to find the space that will allow us to change the relationship between the Crown and the Inuit so that they will be able to realize their vision of first Canadians and Canadians first.

So it is again, that we went to an Inuit leader, Mary Simon, to actually write us a report on what Arctic leadership would look like. I'll quote from her report:  "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.

She, she actually found that, that she was unable to really engage in conversations about conservation or economic development until the basic issue of poverty had been dealt with. To address the needs of the North, we have to have northern-led economic development and work to keep those gains in the North. That means that global free-trade agreements can't focus the benefits only in economic centres. The North has to stop being a place that sends their best and their brightest to the South for work.

The inspiring Zita Cobb from Fogo Island is, was, was, you know, very top executive tat the tech giant JDS Uniphase, when she returned to her community where others would see a barren landscape, she saw opportunity, as you have done here in Iceland. She pointed out that 400 years of culture on an island to share, she's made it a tourism destination to do just that. But she was very aware that the economic activity in the North doesn't lead to economic benefit in the North unless your intentional about that.

And in a meeting of Northern Ministers in Canada, we had a breakfast session on economic leakage, which is a sort of rather awful term, but it sounds, it's what so much is the activity in the North is owned by companies in the South and the money literally is going south, and that we have to turn this around. And what she was saying is that transparency has to be the new grain. She calls it economic nutrition labelling, and on the back of every calling card, she has her hotel, the fishing business, the furniture business, and on the back, for every dollar you spend, you will find how much money has stayed in the North. And we think this is extraordinarily important as we go forward. We, we have to have that kind of transparency which can be the new grain.

In Canada, we're also acknowledging the importance of the voices of Indigenous youth. We know that we have to listen to them and make sure they are feeling heard, to make sure that they have hope, to make sure that they see a future for them in the North. It is as Nellie Cournoyea said, we need to challenge ourselves to find ways to engage the mind and spirit of a generation of northerners. Four years ago, the founding members of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference talked about the profound relationship Inuit have with the land and the water and the ice.

Recently, the Prime Minister, as the Chairman said, spoke about time of change in his address to the United Nations. As he said, Indigenous and northern communities are particularly affected by stark reality. He said from (inaudible) to Kugluktuk to Tuktoyaktuk, community members are finding sea ice conditions more dangerous and unpredictable for travelling and hunting in the winter. In Canada's Western Arctic, the permafrost is melting and huge pieces of tundra are eroding into the ocean.

I remember in 1999, climbing down into the community freezer in Tuktoyaktuk and being shown the evidence of the rivulets of water washing down the inside of that ice freezer. The perma, as in short for permanent frost, was actually melting and no one was listening. We want time to change policy that is grounded in the Inuit Qaujimanituqangit, or short, IQ. IQ articulates the pillars of traditional Inuit knowledge which place an emphasis on collaborative relationships, environmental stewardship, resourcefulness and acquisition of skills.

Indigenous communities are already on the forefront of reducing dependency on diesel. By increasing the use of local, renewable energy sources, communities are reaping benefits that will lead to a, to a more sustainable Arctic and example for others. To repeat, as Sheila Watt-Cloutier said, the North is not a place that is endured and survived, it is indeed a training ground. But also in governance, in all three territories in Canada, decisions on development and land management are taken by co-management boards of Indigenous rights holders, provincial and territorial governments and the federal government representative.

It means that governments and people in the South need some of this training, that impatience and courage and in being bold in our actions, which means shared decision-making. Our actions need to be grounded in the fervent belief that the future of the North must be shaped by northerners. Our job is to support their vision and their reality.

Nellie Cournoyea was right, paternalism has been a total failure. The future is about imagination and humility from those of us in the South. It's time to listen to the first peoples.

Thank you. Merci.


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