Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtable session: Churchill, Manitoba, October 11, 2017

This is a summary of the Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtable in Churchill, Manitoba on October 4, 2017.


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Representatives from Indigenous governments and organizations, the Town of Churchill, community organizations, academia and local community members participated in this roundtable, along with representatives of the provincial and federal governments. To protect the privacy of participants, the names of individuals are not disclosed, except where permission to be quoted has been obtained.

Overarching themes and messages for the framework

Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure

Financing and governance

  • Participants were interested in looking at innovative funding models to address infrastructure gaps, especially public-private partnerships.
  • Infrastructure needs are not simply about funding and construction, but also about governance. Participants discussed the potential of regionally-owned infrastructure, including regional ownership of the railway line.

Comprehensive planning and capacity building

  • A wide-ranging approach needs to be undertaken with respect to developing infrastructure. In addition to funding, infrastructure investments require comprehensive planning that includes capacity development, innovation and education for local communities. This will ensure that the region is better prepared to participate in the project and better equipped to care for and maintain the infrastructure.
  • Capacity building and innovation linked to infrastructure investment will strengthen communities as a whole, and allow Northern regions to reinvest in social and economic development in their own communities.

Broader linkages

  • Infrastructure has links to many other pressing issues, such as food security, energy, housing and connectivity.
  • Housing issues require a locally developed solution.

Ongoing investments

  • Developing comprehensive Arctic infrastructure requires not only investment in new projects, but also re-investment in current infrastructure. The Trans-Canada Highway, for example, was not a one-time investment, but requires continual upgrading.

Strong Arctic people and communities

Role of Indigenous people and Northerners in policy development

  • Indigenous people need to play a key role in engagement on a new Arctic Policy Framework.
  • Policies "for the North" need to be developed "by the North." Northerners are eager to participate in policy-making and to contribute to addressing Northern challenges.
  • Decisions are often made for Northern communities without knowledge of the local context. Decision makers in southern capitals often suffer from "north blindness."
  • Indigenous people and other Northerners are trying to take solutions-based approaches to their challenges, but often feel that government policies are not helpful or are even obstructionist.

Food security and cost of living

  • Government funding needs to take into account the unique needs of, and cost of living in, remote and isolated communities.
  • Food security and food sovereignty are major issues. The Government of Canada should support the efforts of Northern communities to grow their own food. Community-based initiatives include the LED hydroponic system being developed by Opaskwayak Cree Nation.
  • Unhealthy foods are often more affordable than perishable, nutritious foods. Northern retailers are often perceived as exploiting local communities. Food prices in Churchill are too high, especially since the closing of the rail line in spring 2017.
  • Traditional harvesting is very expensive, especially in Northern provincial communities.
  • Participants felt that Nutrition North Canada provides greater support for traditional harvesting in the territories than in the Northern provinces.

Community safety

  • Enhanced community safety, including the drug trade in Northern communities, was a concern of participants.
  • Mental wellness is often a major factor driving criminal activity.
  • There is a lack of resources for released offenders. Transitional institutions such as halfway houses are usually located in the south, far from Northerners' families and communities. Halfway houses are also often located close to areas of gang and drug-related activity, which encourages recidivism.


  • Northerners suffer from a lack of access to doctors, nurses and medical services.
  • Type 2 diabetes is a major health challenge for Northern Indigenous peoples such as the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Early childhood education and social resources

  • Early childhood education and other forms of early childhood support is a key issue for Northerners.
  • There is a lack of resources for women who study and work. These women are often primary care givers, and insufficient support for childcare affects their ability to participate in the economy and pursue educational opportunities.
  • Social and cultural services should strengthen Indigenous families and languages, and be culturally appropriate.

Emergency preparedness

  • Participants were concerned about emergency preparedness, particularly in the face of climate change. Some participants wondered what kind of emergency preparedness measures had been in place to deal with the flooding that damaged the railway line in the spring of 2017.
  • The role of partnerships, including partnerships between federal departments and local people, in addressing emergency preparedness was discussed.

Intergovernmental relationships

  • As Indigenous governments develop and grow, the Government of Canada will have to take into account the ambitions and new activities of self-governing Indigenous peoples.
  • Participants felt that there needs to be more cooperation between different levels of government in addressing issues such as food insecurity. Governments need greater awareness about the programs offered by their federal, provincial, municipal and Indigenous counterparts, in order to be more effective and avoid duplication of effort.

Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies

Supporting, attracting and developing Northern businesses

  • Participants discussed ways to attract companies to the Canadian Arctic, and to retain businesses that are already based in the North.
  • Establishing business incubators and innovation hubs in the North with links to the private sector could contribute to economic development.
  • Increased internet connectivity is a major need in the North. Without connectivity, participants noted, it is impossible for Northerners to participate in the digital economy.
  • Public policies no longer encourage companies to invest in community building in the North. Resource development has increasingly focused on a "fly-in, fly-out" workforce, rather than the creation of "company towns" near major project sites.

Economic leakage

  • "Economic leakage" is a serious problem for the North. New ways need to be found to retain the wealth generated in the North; too often it flows south and is not reinvested in Northern communities. Measures to consider could include tax incentives to keep businesses and profits in Northern communities.

Capacity building and skills development

  • Community readiness was identified as key and needs to be central in enabling communities to capitalize on economic opportunities. For instance, in some cases, the local labour force does not have the training or skills required to participate in major projects in the region, which means that project operators import their labour force from the south.
  • Skills development needs to be integrated into curricula at an early stage.
  • Human capacity is a major barrier for economic growth in Northern communities.
  • Participants felt that there are serious policy and programming barriers to building wealth in the North, including policies and programs that do not support or even actively discourage Indigenous Canadians in seeking post-graduate and professional education opportunities.

Arctic science and Indigenous Knowledge

The Churchill Marine Observatory

  • The Churchill Marine Observatory can be a leading centre for research in the North.

Education and capacity building

  • Participants discussed the importance of capacity building and skills development, stressing the need to reduce barriers and open up requirements so that Indigenous people can access opportunities.
  • Participants discussed the need for a University in the Canadian Arctic, one that is developed in the North, for Northerners and largely staffed by Northerners. The University of Greenland model was discussed, as was the role of Manitoba's University College of the North, which could be enhanced and aligned with other higher education institutions in Canada's Arctic, such as Nunavut Arctic College.


  • In response to the question of how to attract young people to science, one response was "don't call it science." Some suggested that this theme be retitled "Arctic Knowledge" to eliminate the distinction between science and Indigenous Knowledge.
  • The importance of involving youth in the research process, including participating in collecting and monitoring data through on-the-land programming and other forms of research activity, was discussed.
  • Interesting Northern Indigenous youth in research can be facilitated by linking research activities to their own culture.
  • Involving youth can help relate science and research to the day-to-day lives of young Northerners, and reduce the feeling among youth that science is intimidating and something "other people do."
  • The school curriculum needs to be assessed to ensure that there is adequate programming to interest youth in sciences.
  • The integration of scientific and Indigenous Knowledge can be a means for increasing the interest of young Northerners in research.

Indigenous Knowledge and science

  • Participants discussed the broader role of Indigenous Knowledge, and questions surrounding its use. Is Indigenous Knowledge trusted by government and scientific researchers? When used, is the knowledge proponent-based or Crown-based? Is the inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge in government decision-making sometimes done in a superficial manner, or used to co-opt the views of Indigenous communities and suggest local support for government initiatives?
  •  "Arctic science" is often taken to refer to the natural sciences, but social science is an important dimension as well, particularly as communities require data on social challenges such as suicide.

Scope of the term "Arctic"

  • Cross-boundary Indigenous land claims were discussed, including the Manitoba Dënesuliné claim in Nunavut. This was seen by some participants as a good example of how Manitoba First Nations are a part of the Canadian Arctic.

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Climate change

  • Concern was raised over the "opening up" of the Canadian Arctic due to climate change. Participants wondered about the impact of new activities and new interests in the region on the environment, sovereignty, security and defence.
  • Participants noted that the complexities of climate change require partnerships and co-operation.

Environmental issues and communities

  • Engaging local people is central to conservation and environmental protection.
  • Access to usable data in an accessible form is important to local community involvement.
  • There is a need for on-the-ground experience in decision-making.
  • Elders and youth have an important role to play in environmental protection. On-the-land programming is a significant element in educating youth about the Northern environment and their relationship to it.
  • The Junior Rangers Program has been exceptionally successful at keeping youth connected to the land and ensuring the passage of Indigenous Knowledge from generation to generation. This is a best practice that should be encouraged and replicated.
  • A shift to a "green economy" could provide new opportunities for economic growth and development.
  • Relationship development is key to including local and Indigenous Knowledge in research, and to encouraging "citizen science" and local involvement in research activities.

The Arctic in a global context

Climate change and responding to a changing Arctic environment

  • The discussion focused heavily on the potential impacts of climate change on the Arctic and how Arctic communities can be prepared to face these new challenges and opportunities.
  • As climate change makes Canada's Arctic waters more accessible, there is an increased global interest in the Arctic and a higher volume of vessel traffic. Participants noted the need to enhance monitoring of foreign vessels travelling through the northwest passage.
  • A multinational agreement could be an effective tool to ensure that foreign vessels operating in Arctic waters comply with protocols and regulations that protect the specialized and sensitive Arctic ecosystem.
  • Northern communities need to be prepared to respond to the potential negative effects of an increased presence of vessels in Canada's Arctic waters, such as oil spills.
  • Canada needs to focus not only on pollution prevention, but also on detection and mitigation.
  • Participants encouraged the government to keep the environment at the forefront of Canada's international Arctic policy.
  • Canada should use international fora to push other states to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. Canada should also support initiatives that enhance the resilience of Arctic communities to the effects of climate change.

Responsible and sustainable economic development

  • Tourism and trade were brought up as beneficial opportunities for economic growth. Long-term and sustainable growth in these areas depends on the protection of the natural environment and the flora and fauna that are used in Indigenous products.
  • Participants agreed that while economic development should be pursued, the benefits of these initiatives should be weighed against any potential negative impacts on the Arctic environment and Indigenous culture.
  • There is a need for more baseline data in order to properly understand the long-term effects of economic development and resource extraction on the natural environment.

Connecting Northern and Indigenous peoples to the international arena

  • Participants noted that Canada's Indigenous people are international actors in their own right and discussed the need for greater self-representation of Indigenous peoples in international forums that work on circumpolar issues, Indigenous issues and climate change.
  • It was noted that the definition of international relations should be broadened to include the international relationships and activities of Canada's Indigenous governments and organizations. This includes the movement of people and the trading networks of Indigenous communities that overlap international borders, as well as the relationships that Canadian Indigenous people are developing with other international actors.
  • Canada could work with international partners to facilitate innovation in Northern communities. Opportunities to work with both Arctic and non-Arctic states to bring new technologies to Canada's North could enhance food security or provide more opportunities for renewable energy solutions.
  • Canada could work to facilitate economic partnerships between Indigenous communities with foreign companies. For example, Opaskwayak Cree Nation has partnered with a Korean company to develop a pilot program for an LED-powered system that grows fresh fruits and vegetables for their community.  
  • Participants encouraged the government to continue taking best practices or lessons learned from other Arctic states and adapting them to fit the needs of local communities. Canada should seek partnerships with other Arctic states to share resources or infrastructure, and to leverage shared investments. 
  • Canada could also work to incentivize international companies to be headquartered in the North.
  • Participants noted the need for the federal government to better communicate its international priorities and challenges to local communities in Canada's Arctic.

Implementing the international dimension of the Arctic Policy Framework

  • A solutions-based approach should be pursued and should acknowledge the unique interests and priorities of the different Arctic jurisdictions and Indigenous nations in Canada.
  • Canada should leverage federal resources such as the Canadian Armed Forces to support and develop Northern regions (e.g., the Canadian Armed Forces could assist in the transportation of food and other supplies).
  • Canada could use existing resources to implement the outcomes of the policy framework, including working with local communities to enhance monitoring of Canada's Arctic waters.
  • Canada's priority of maintaining a visible and persistent presence in the Arctic could be supported by increased programs and opportunities for Arctic residents.

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