Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtable session: Iqaluit, November 2, 2017


This is a summary of the Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtable in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on November 2, 2017.

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Participants from Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Regional Inuit Associations, Inuit community and economic development corporations and regional Chambers of Commerce met with federal and territorial officials in Iqaluit on November 2, 2017, for a roundtable on the Arctic Policy Framework. 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

Transformative infrastructure

  • ‎Participants noted the need for a transformative, "nation building" approach to infrastructure in the region. While it was recognized that this type of "life changing" investment would come with a high price tag, participants argued that appropriate investments would save money in the long term.
  • The current approach to infrastructure, including housing, was characterized as a "band-aid" solution that keeps the territory in a state of crisis.
  • Participants noted that Nunavummiut are not looking for special treatment – simply a way of life comparable to that enjoyed by southern Canadians. One participant noted that without high-quality internet access, students in the North are placed at a disadvantage compared to students in the south.
  • Participants expressed concern that Nunavut will not benefit from current federal infrastructure initiatives due to the eligibility conditions attached to these programs. Participants were critical of transportation infrastructure programs that seem to be solely oriented towards southern challenges and needs.

Nunavut's unique infrastructure needs

  • Participants emphasized the unique infrastructure needs of Nunavut, including the size of the territory and the distance between its communities, as well as the infrastructure legacy stemming from the rapid transition from a traditional way of life to Western modernity experienced by Nunavut Inuit over the course of the twentieth century. This transition, which included the resettling of Nunavut Inuit in permanent communities, means that most of the territory's communities were built at the same time. Nunavut is consequently facing "generational" infrastructure challenges as community infrastructure ages at the same rate across the territory.
  • Participants linked Nunavut's infrastructure needs with the legacy of the Inuit High Arctic relocations, and called upon the Government of Canada to fulfill the promises made to those Inuit who were relocated by providing adequate infrastructure to support communities in the High Arctic.
  • Participants discussed the problems related to a per-capita approach to infrastructure spending, which does not reflect Northern realities or needs.
  • Participants underscored that infrastructure has a key role in addressing the social challenges in the North. One participant used the example of housing, pointing out that many social issues faced by Northerners – including educational outcomes, nutrition, safety, protection from abuse, and mental health – stem from overcrowding: "it's all based on whether or not someone can have a bedroom."

Distinctive regions

  • Participants noted that the different regions of Nunavut have distinct infrastructure needs, and that Nunavut's regions need to play a role in shaping infrastructure decisions.
  • Participants observed that as Regional Inuit Associations develop and strengthen through the influx of resource development funds, the possibility is opening up for bilateral partnerships between Regional Inuit Associations and the Government of Canada on regional infrastructure projects. Some participants were critical of the need for Government of Nunavut concurrence on infrastructure needs as a precondition for applying for federal funding for regional projects.

Specific infrastructure needs

  • Discussion touched upon the possibilities opened up by stronger community-to-community infrastructure links in the territory, rather than a focus on access from the south. Closer links between communities could lower costs of living and reduce the number of "fly-in" communities.
  • Participants called for increased internet access in Nunavut through the creation of new fibre optic networks.
  • Participants noted the particular need for all-weather roads, airstrip upgrades, small-craft harbours and ports. Potential projects highlighted include a road from Churchill, Manitoba to the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, as well as port upgrades to support the fishing industry in Coral Harbour and to support the community of Naujaat, a key location within the Northwest Passage.
  • One participant suggested the possibility of a "St. Lawrence Seaway" approach to regulating traffic through the Northwest Passage, in which trained and registered pilots would guide ships through the passage.
  • Participants discussed cultural infrastructure, including current initiatives led by the Kivalliq Inuit Association to build several community-based cultural centres, as well as the potential of a Nunavut heritage centre.

Strong Arctic peoples and communities


  • Participants called for the strengthening of the Nunavut education system, including higher learning, and building community trust with the education system in the context of the legacy of residential schools.
  • The importance of bolstering the education system, not just through recruitment and retention of teachers, but also through the establishment of fundamental wrap-around supports such as counseling and learning disability assessments was emphasized. Participants felt that, given a deficit in the number of teachers, it is difficult for the territory to move past "crisis mode" and make progress on these important wrap-around services.
  • Participants called for stronger federal support for early childhood education, emphasizing the beneficial effects of early learning later in life, including mental health benefits. Early learning also supports the participation of parents, particularly mothers, in the workforce and in education.
  • Participants noted that all of these forms of educational services and supports would be strengthened by ensuring that they are grounded in Inuit culture and language.
  • Participants discussed the need for an Inuit Nunangat university.

Country food

  • Participants noted that country food is a major industry that could be further supported and leveraged for improved social and economic development outcomes.
  • Participants described how Inuit would prefer a "100 mile-diet" based on country food, but participants felt that federal regulations and food programming do not support country food harvesting, production and consumption. Participants also referred to the social benefits and local economic byproducts of supporting a "100-mile diet." Possibilities include the development of local "incubators" where local harvesters and artisans could trade country food and cultural products for other goods and services.
  • Referring to previous successes achieved through the free shipping of country food, one participant suggested that Nutrition North Canada could support the shipping of country food within the territory, to ensure that regions without access (due to hunting moratoria etc.) would be able to bring in country food from elsewhere. This type of service could also encourage harvesting and act as a form of economic development and hunter support.


  • Housing was raised in a number of different contexts as a major need and the housing shortage was described as having a continued deleterious influence on social wellbeing and economic success.
  • Participants discussed barriers to effective social program and service delivery. Frustrations with constant program reviews, short-term program extensions and the difficulty of planning ahead when grappling with the federal fiscal cycle were ‎cited as obstacles to long-term solutions.
  • Participants noted that there are many successful examples of "made in Nunavut" solutions to social and other policy challenges, but that funding and other forms of government inflexibility make it difficult to support these homegrown programs and services. In some cases, these Nunavut success stories have actually shut down due to a lack of support.

Social programming and funding

  • Participants stressed that stable, flexible, multi-year funding is a fundamental requirement.
  • Participants emphasized that funding for social programming and other forms of social support should take an outcomes-based approach that rewards and enables success through long-term investment.
  • The importance of distinctions-based solutions and programming was emphasized. Participants described how attempts to develop pan-Indigenous solutions fail to take into account the respective needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
  • Participants raised the issue of Nunavummiut who are unable to access certain social services because they do not file income tax returns, and asked whether there are means to address this issue to ensure that all Nunavummiut are able to receive the social programming they require.

Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies

A Northern view

  • While Northern hubs such as Churchill, Manitoba often seen themselves as "looking North" and a "gateway to the North", participants stressed that they are interested in reversing that kind of perspective by developing a Northern-centric business view that promotes self-reliance and sees the south as a market and not simply as a source of goods, services and labour.
  • Participants called for the Pan-Territorial Vision for Sustainable Development to be incorporated into the economic section of the Arctic Policy Framework.

Partnerships and the role of regional economic development corporations

  • Participants called for stronger alignment between federal programming and Nunavummiut's own thinking about what works and does not work in territorial economic development.
  • Participants pointed to a lack of alignment between Government of Nunavut priorities and the economic development needs identified by Designated Inuit Organizations, and called for increased partnership. Regional development corporations, in particular, felt there is more opportunity for partnership and collaboration with the Government of Nunavut on major infrastructure projects.
  • More broadly speaking, participants called for a more holistic, partnership-driven approach to economic development, in which governments would work closely with economic development organizations and others to leverage resources and pre-existing initiatives in training and education.
  • Participants discussed the role of regional development corporations in Nunavut, noting that several of these organizations are looking to move away from competition with smaller, community-level businesses. Participants also considered whether to amalgamate Nunavut's four regional development corporations into one entity that could liaise with the Government of Nunavut and the Government of Canada more easily.

Capacity building, supporting graduates and apprentices

  • Participants emphasized the importance of developing capacity, and of keeping Nunavut-generated wealth within the territory, citing "economic leakage" from North to south as a major problem.
  • The lack of support for recently trained nurses, apprentices and others through government hiring practices was identified as a problem.


  • Housing was seen as a major barrier to economic growth and economic mobility for Nunavummiut throughout the territory, as well as an impediment to skills development and higher learning. It was observed that the number of college students‎ is restricted, not by the availability of classroom space, but by the availability of beds and student housing.
  • Similarly, a lack of housing in communities close to major resource projects prevents workers from other parts of the territory from moving to areas with potential job opportunities. Consequently, labour is imported from the south on a fly-in fly-out basis.
  • Housing was pointed to as an opportunity to think strategically, to leverage projects and resources, and to partner with Inuit development corporations to ensure that apprenticeships, capacity building and local job creation are advanced alongside the construction of new homes.
  • Obstacles to increasing housing in Nunavut include the costs of construction and importing materials as well as a lack of serviced land.
  • Housing is also an area in which the territory sees a large amount of "economic leakage". Housing calls for major investment, but much of the money spent on labour and supplies (and related tax revenue stemming from these goods and services) flows to the south.


  • Participants described how every territorial and provincial jurisdiction has a Minister responsible for employment, with the exception of Nunavut. This impairs the development of an integrated, coordinated approach to developing priorities related to employment in the territory.
  • Article 23 (Inuit employment within government) of the Nunavut Agreement was discussed, with reference to the 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated to study the cost to the territory of failing to develop a representative government workforce. The report found that Nunavut Inuit will lose approximately $1.2 billion in potential wages from 2017 to 2023 due to the failure to implement Article 23.
  • Participants described how the majority of private sector employees in the territory are Inuit, but that these employees are the worst paid. Mining offers well-paying jobs to Inuit, participants observed, but not everyone is interested in working in a mine.

Potential opportunities for economic development

  • It was suggested that Inuit ownership of all alternative energy sources in the territory could be a means by which Nunavut Inuit could benefit from the resources of their territory, and that this would provide an opportunity to further leverage benefit from Inuit-owned lands.
  • Participants identified a lack of federal support for the fishing industry in the territory as a major concern, and argued that federal policy is actually having a negative impact on Nunavut through the support of fishing companies from outside of the territory that operate in waters adjacent to Nunavut. Participants pointed to the large sums spent by the Government of Canada in supporting the Aboriginal fishing industry, but described how none of those funds had been allocated to Nunavut.
  • Participants noted that the cruise ship and tourism industries offer major opportunities for Nunavut communities, but also create serious burdens in terms of the capacity of small communities to absorb large numbers of visitors.
  • One participant suggested that business opportunities could be developed at the local level through community monitoring and data collection, which could then be sold to governments and academic institutions. Such opportunities require investment in local capacity building.
  • Participants discussed the possibilities that could be afforded by a Government of Nunavut-owned airline, pointing to the high cost of air travel from Nunavut, as well as the important role that the federal government played in establishing Air Canada.

Impact of government/policy decisions

  • Participants described how policy decisions can have long-term consequences that disrupt important regional relationships. For instance, Nunavut previously had a stronger relationship with Manitoba and Alberta when goods were shipped from those provinces into the territory. However, a policy shift led to a decision to tender shipping from Montreal instead. This decision was made to save money for government, but ended up costing companies large amounts of money, forced development corporations to hire French-language consultants in order to effectively do business in Quebec and disrupted long-term business relationships with Western Canada.
  • Participants perceived a lack of parity with south-of-sixty Indigenous economic development programs and funding. Participants also expressed dissatisfaction with the level of funding available through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, as well as the impact of short-term funding cycles.
  • Participants felt that Government of Nunavut contracting seems to favour southern-based companies that can offer lower bids but often fail to complete the work due to environmental factors.

Other challenges

  • Participants were strongly critical of the role played by companies that hold near-monopolies in Nunavut communities. Participants felt that these companies are often exploiting the territory.

Arctic science and Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous Knowledge

  • A stronger role for Indigenous Knowledge, including appropriate capacity within government, was called for. Participants observed that this body of knowledge is often treated as cosmetic or as a way to validate/provide secondary support to scientific conclusions.
  • The need for Indigenous Knowledge capacity within government was linked to making advances on Inuit employment plans under Article 23 (Inuit employment within government) of the Nunavut Agreement.
  • Participants noted that Indigenous Knowledge should be treated as a distinct body of knowledge equal to the Western scientific tradition.
  • Indigenous Knowledge, participants stressed, should not be dismissed as mere "hearsay" or as simply anecdotal.
  • Participants discussed examples where scientific conclusions and Indigenous Knowledge have disagreed. One example was cited regarding the tranquilization of polar bears. Inuit Elders argue that this practice taints the taste of meat, while scientists contend that there is no effect. As one participant noted, "I am inclined to believe those who actually eat the meat."
  • Opportunities for closer partnership and dialogue were seen as beneficial to reducing clashes between these two domains of knowledge.
  • Participants pointed to the construction of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, and to the development of small-craft harbours in Pond Inlet and Iqaluit, as success stories in utilizing local knowledge.

Research and communities

  • Participants pointed to a disconnect between federal science and research programs, including the Canadian High Arctic Research Station as well as programming related to Canada's continental shelf, and local communities.
  • Participants described how local communities often feel that research results are not communicated back to the community level, and that there is a lack of trust between community organizations and researchers.

Politics and research

  • Citing the example of research into the size of the polar bear population, some participants argued that there is a great deal of "agenda-based, politically-charged research that happens in the North."

Social science

  • Participants emphasized the importance of social science research in the Arctic and North, pointing to the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship program run by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation as a success story in this field.

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Climate change

  • Participants argued in favour of locally-based solutions to climate change, environment and development. Noting that the impacts of climate change are strongly manifested in Nunavut, participants felt that some of the solutions should come from Nunavummiut.

Conservation and environmental/wildlife management

  • Participants referred to the success of Nunavut's environmental and wildlife management regimes, and noted that Nunavummiut take their role as stewards of their territory very seriously.
  • The centrality of conservation to Inuit culture and tradition was a theme throughout the discussion of environmental issues. Participants noted the widespread perception that Inuit are not interested in conservation because they are hunters. However, it was pointed out that while the concept of conservation is relatively new to Western societies, it is an idea that has been practiced by Inuit since time immemorial.
  • Participants noted the importance of conserving the calving grounds of the caribou in the Kivalliq region, particularly given development pressures on calving grounds elsewhere in the territory.

International impact

  • Participants pointed to the impact of international actors on Nunavut communities and the Arctic environment, including the example of the Russian rocket debris that crashed in the waters off Ellesmere Island in May 2016.

Alternative energy

  • Participants felt that there was a lack of policy space to discuss alternative energy solutions, particularly with the Qulliq Energy Corporation, given the role occupied by diesel in the territory's energy system.
  • Alternative energy sources could include wind energy, particularly in areas such as the Kivalliq region, which experience high winds.

Arctic in a global context

North-to-North and Inuit mobility

  • Strengthening North-to-North ‎cooperation instead of importing solutions from the south was a key feature of the discussion. One participant provided the example of Nunavut's curriculum, which is borrowed from Alberta. The participant suggested that Nunavut could be using a more culturally appropriate model from Greenland. Canada can profit from best practices of other Arctic nations and collaborate on issues of shared concern, such as housing, transport, broadband/ fibre optic and mental health.
  • Participants expressed keen interest in increased mobility‎ of Inuit between jurisdictions (ex: Nunavut and Greenland) as enabling opportunities to work together, exchange best practices and empower one another. Barriers to mobility and trade between jurisdictions include the high cost of airfare, need for passports, strict visa processes, customs or limitations for importing flora and fauna, and immigration laws that limit the exchange of workers and opportunities to learn from each other. Participants referred in particular to the work of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission established by the Inuit Circumpolar Council to examine the special role and potential of the North Water Polyana as a shared space/resource between Nunavut and Greenland.

Arctic sovereignty and Canadian Arctic leadership

  • Participants felt that Canada's use of Indigenous occupancy to support claims to Arctic sovereignty contrasted with the very poor social, educational, health and economic status of Canadian Inuit. It was stressed that Canada should support Northern peoples and invest in Inuit as Canada's primary partner in Arctic sovereignty, including through additional resources for the Northern Rangers program and Nunavut-based emergency response.
  • The discussion touched on what participants saw as a disconnect between the realities faced by Inuit and Northerners, and the manner in which Canada presents itself as a leader in the international Arctic arena. Remarks by Prime Minister Trudeau at the UN General Assembly in September 2017, which fully acknowledged the ongoing harmful impacts of colonialism on Indigenous and Northern peoples, were seen as a refreshing and reconciliatory gesture.
  • In terms of engagement, ‎participants noted a disconnect between local priorities and Canada's actions in the international Arctic arena. Participants articulated the need for proper governance and policy alignment to ensure that issues affecting Inuit communities are reflected in Canada's international Arctic policy.
  • Another focus of the discussion was Inuit representation in international fora‎. It was noted that while Inuit are engaged on international Arctic policies, their suggestions are not often implemented or integrated into Canada's actions in the international Arctic arena. It was also suggested that Canada explore additional ways to support the Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council and work to strengthen or formalize their role in this forum.
  • Participants expressed concern with increased vessel traffic, particularly with small vessels traversing the Northwest Passage without being properly monitored through Automatic Identification Systems. It was noted that Inuit should be more involved in marine monitoring, both in creating and enforcing regulatory regimes, and in the ownership of data. One participant suggested establishing a system to collect tolls from vessels traversing the Northwest Passage. Others noted that Canada could be more supportive of community-based monitoring initiatives.
  • The need to empower the regulatory regime established by the Nunavut Agreement was highlighted in the context of increased vessel traffic in the Canadian Arctic. Further resources for the Institutions of Public Government were called upon to empower these bodies to play an enforcement role.


  • Barriers to accessing international markets continue to hinder opportunities for economic development. For example, the United States' Marine Mammals Protection Act prevented tourists aboard the cruise ship Crystal Serenity from purchasing seal-based products from community members in Cambridge Bay, as the Act prohibits the importation into the United States of seal-based products from other countries‎. The government needs to take additional action to promote a market for seal products internationally. Participants also spoke to the high cost of airfare to/within Nunavut as a barrier to pursuing opportunities for international ecotourism.

Defence and security

  • Participants expressed a desire for a greater presence by the Canadian Armed Forces in the region, and greater partnership between the Canadian Armed Forces and communities and local institutions, such as Nunavut Arctic College, including potential use of Department of National Defence resources and facilities.
  • Participants discussed a potential community-affiliation initiative with the Royal Canadian Navy, in which the Navy's new Arctic offshore patrol vessels would be affiliated with Northern communities and regions. Participants expressed an interest, but stressed a desire for real partnership and opportunities for training, capacity building and exchange of knowledge.

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