Arctic Policy Framework Roundtables Report, Non-governmental organizations, Ottawa, February 7, 2018

The opinions and views set out in this report prepared by Stratos | BDO are not necessarily the opinions or views of the Government of Canada.



To inform the development of the new Arctic Policy Framework (framework) by gaining insight into the interests, priorities and desired outcomes of partners and stakeholders; and to identify possible areas for joint action to achieve shared goals.

Representatives from non-governmental organizations from across Canada participated in this roundtable, along with representatives from some of the framework’s co-development partners. To protect the privacy of participants, the names of individuals are not disclosed, except where permission to be quoted has been obtained.

About the report

This report synthesizes the input provided by participants across the 6 thematic areas:

  1. Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure
  2. Strong Arctic people and communities
  3. Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies
  4. Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge
  5. Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity
  6. The Arctic in a global context

The discussion within each theme was guided by a small set of discussion questions, which are provided below. Comments were shared by individual participants, unless otherwise noted.

Information gathered during this roundtable will be used as input to the development of the framework, along with information gathered at other national and regional multi-stakeholder roundtables, and through ongoing engagement with Indigenous governments and representatives and territorial and provincial governments directly involved in the co-development process.

Overarching themes and messages for the framework

"We have to stress the urgency of changes occurring around us when developing the Arctic Policy Framework." -Henriette Thompson, KAIROS Canada

Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure

Discussion questions

  • What are the key infrastructure priorities for the Arctic?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Investment in social infrastructure

  • Investment in social infrastructure should accompany investments in economic infrastructure
  • Investment is needed for Indigenous sports facilities that can also be used to support health and cultural activities (e.g. drum dances)
    • Also should consider investing in more efficient heat and lighting, to reduce operational costs
    • Renewable energy sources may not necessarily lower costs (Example: solar panels were installed in the gym, which resulted in an energy excess in the summer and an energy deficit in the winter)
  • Schools could be used for recreation use "after hours"
  • Investment is needed for culturally appropriate health care centres
  • Affordable housing appropriate for a Northern environment should be a primary priority

"There are designated Inuit values and principles which should be taken into consideration when interacting with communities and building infrastructure." -Deborah Tagornak, KAIROS Canada

Other infrastructure needs

  • Northerners are at a huge disadvantage due to low bandwidth capacity; for example, Northerners are often unable to download large files from environmental assessment processes
    • Policy makers need to be aware of rapid technology change as they invest in improved connectivity
  • Clear, accessible funding is needed for community-based investments in renewable energy Footnote 1
  • Infrastructure from a Northern perspective (e.g. sea ice, cabins, roads, etc.) should be included
  • Investment is needed for emergency response capabilities and navigation equipment and data collection and analysis (e.g. improve understanding of sea ice thickness, sea floor maps, iceberg hazards, etc.) to help prevent "emergencies" from occurring
  • Education, training and research systems should be led by and incorporate Northerner and Northern Indigenous perspectives
  • Northern educational institutions are often unable to apply for research funding
  • Education can support building capacity for self-governance
  • A clear vision should be developed for post-secondary education in the North
  • Funding should include training for infrastructure operations and maintenance

"Broadband is one of the most fundamental aspects of the modern world." – Tim Stiles, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Leveraging existing infrastructure funds

  • Funding programs should be clear and easy to navigate to bring funding into communities
  • How can the Canadian Arctic leverage the Canadian infrastructure investment plan (e.g. green, rural and northern community funds) to address the infrastructure deficit in the North?
  • Private sector investments in infrastructure should be leveraged to benefit Northerners
    • This could also be done through taxes collected from private sector activities
  • How can policy support the leveraging of foreign investment to meet Northern needs?

Infrastructure funding criteria

  • Infrastructure that can adapt to a changing climate should be a criteria in deciding which infrastructure to fund

Strong Arctic people and communities

Discussion questions

  • What key actions could increase well-being within Arctic communities?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Meeting basic needs

  • Many participants agreed that basic needs should first be met, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; this applies to all themes being discussed
  • There is an urgent need to address poverty before we can move forward on other issues (i.e. high cost of living including food, transportation and housing, lack of health facilities, etc.)
    • The federal government should revisit the Nutrition North program, which supports the Northwest company’s monopoly on food supply in the North
    • Access to country foods in the North should be supported
    • Investments are needed for culturally appropriate healing and mental health services

Preparing for and understanding resource development opportunities

  • A better understanding of how mining has benefited and impacted communities in the North is needed
  • Funding should support environmental assessment consultation activities and to review/assess proponent materials that are provided to communities
    • Increased connectivity and reduced transportation costs could also support this

Education and training

  • Education and training should incorporate Northern culture and traditions, and be facilitated by Northerners
  • For example, Clyde River has a cultural-based training centre that could be used as a model
  • If there is investment in education and training, it should result in Northern employment

Barriers to accessing country food

  • There is a misconception that country food is accessible, which differs from the reality, for example:
    • There have been studies indicating a decline in country food (e.g. caribou, char)
    • Environmental changes are often forcing hunters to go further and further away from their communities
    • There can be fluctuations in country food availability from year to year
    • Some youth have not learned how to hunt caribou due to the hunting ban
    • High costs of living can result in time being dedicated to cash-based jobs over hunting
    • Some policies limit the selling of country foods and traditional clothing outside of the territory or province
  • The ability to access country food in the North is tied to the issue of food security

Other comments

  • Arctic communities cannot develop in isolation, Northerners need to trade within and outside of Canada, build programs collaboratively across borders
    • More trade literacy is needed to understand the impact of trade agreements
  • Churches and faith communities are working with Northerners to recognize Indigenous spirituality and address the climate change crisis
    • Inuit are concerned that climate change is contributing to mental and physical health impacts (e.g. change in land-based diets)
  • The framework should build on and complement existing programs and policies (e.g. federal government’s policy on physical activity with Indigenous component)
  • Program criteria should be grounded in a Northern definition of well-being and not rely on Sustainable Development Goals or other national/international frameworks

Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies

Discussion questions

  • What can be done to advance sustainable economic development, grow small-to-medium Arctic businesses, and diversify the Arctic economy?
  • What can be done to build capacity/expertise and increase the participation of Arctic residents in local economies?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Northern economies

  • There are two economies in the North that should be supported: cash-based and land-based
    • The benefits of natural resource development and the benefits of supporting the land-based (i.e. traditional) economy should both be considered
  • Policies that restrict the land-based economy (e.g. hunting, arts and crafts, clothing, etc.) both within the North and for exporting outside of the North should be reduced or removed
    • One participant cautioned that the denial of the cod fish decline contributed to a collapse
    • Another participant responded that Indigenous knowledge can inform approaches to caribou herd management
  • How does the "social profit" economy (e.g. non-profits) contribute to the Arctic economy and what does "philanthropy" mean in the North?


  • Education supports the land-based economy, i.e. need wages to buy snowmobiles and other equipment
  • An education curriculum should respect different modes of learning and cultural differences
    • For example, girls are often performing better than boys in the education system because e-learning provides more theoretical learning opportunities versus learning by doing
  • Education should lead to Northerners staffing community positions; currently many are staffed by Southerners and furthermore, Northerners often must receive education in the South to be qualified for the Northern community positions

Measuring economic growth

  • Tracking economic growth should consider alternative social, human, financial and/or environmental capital measures

Building from existing strengths

  • There are opportunities to leverage funds from multiple partners
    • For example, Inspire Nunavut is a partnership between the Nunavut territorial and federal government, which provides training, mentorship and other forms of support for Nunavut youth entrepreneurs
  • One participant shared her experiences growing up in the High Arctic, which demonstrated:
    • The value of communities supporting one another
    • The value of living off the land
    • The value of hard work (rising early, bed early, everyone participating and supporting)

Costs of living

  • While shipping provides essential goods and services to the North, it can come at a prohibitive cost; the high cost of transportation, fuel and food should be reduced

Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge

Discussion questions

  • What can be done to respond more effectively to local knowledge needs?
  • What can be done to increase the capacity of Arctic residents to participate in Arctic research initiatives and to better integrate Indigenous knowledge into decision-making?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Use of Indigenous knowledge

  • Terminology of "integrating" Indigenous knowledge into science should be changed to valuing Indigenous knowledge equally with sciencel
    • Often western-based science is seen as the "only" valid science
    • Research funds should acknowledge that Indigenous knowledge has been proven over centuries through lived experience
  • The definition of traditional or Indigenous knowledge varies regionally; researchers and governments should acknowledge and respect these differences
    • The term "traditional" knowledge is considered limiting because it is seen as static and not forward-looking
  • There are many guidelines (e.g. Arctic Council) on incorporating Indigenous knowledge into community-driven development and research
    • The framework could encourage the implementation of known best practices
    • For example, the Nunavut government is working towards integrating Inuit culture and knowledge into its workplace culture and approach
  • Enforcement mechanisms should ensure best practices are implemented and that there is continuous learning/adaptation from these efforts
  • Investment is needed for data storage and management of Indigenous knowledge in the North

Community engagement in research

  • The terminology "participate in" or "contribute to" should be changed to Northerners leading research initiatives as full partners
    • Research funding criteria should be adapted to allow non-university students to apply
  • Community engagement is often an afterthought on large research grants (e.g. lack of funding to visit communities following the completion of research)
    • Communities should have the right to say no to research that is not aligned with their priorities, especially as it can use substantial community capacity to engage
    • For example, the Nunatsiavut government has data sharing agreements and provides approval for any research in Nunatsiavut
  • Researchers may not be best placed to engage with or integrate community knowledge
    • It takes time to build relationships with communities
  • A leading example is the Jane Glasgow fellowship is for Indigenous Northerners to undertake research in and for their communities; alumni are now in senior management positions
    • Candidates leave jobs to complete the fellowship, likely because it is generous enough to support their work

Other comments

  • Basic needs (e.g. housing, food security, health, etc.) should be met first and foremost

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Discussion questions

  • How can Indigenous and local experience/knowledge be incorporated into action on climate change and biodiversity?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Linkages with other topics

  • Food security and strong economies (e.g. tourism) are strongly linked to protecting the land
  • There is a linkage between reconciliation and Indigenous protected areas

Protected areas

  • Planning processes that occur outside of the official federal government process should be recognized (e.g. Northern land use plans, Indigenous protected areas)
  • The federal government should fund community-based monitoring of Indigenous protected areas and land use plan conservation areas
    • For example, the Indigenous Guardians program has received federal funding to support Indigenous community-based monitoring programs

Capacity building

  • Indigenous groups want to contribute to Arctic Council assessments, but they don’t always have the capacity to respond
  • Capacity building for Northern municipalities should be defined from a policy and program perspective, which builds from existing assets

Post-secondary education and research

  • Post-secondary institutions should be located in the North:
    • People should go to school where they live and stay in the communities
    • Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, a partnership with the University of Alberta, is a good model
  • Post-secondary educational institutions should recognize (e.g. certify) differing forms of expertise including vocational and experiential learning
  • Demographics and the predominance of youth should be recognized in planning education and training programs
  • There is often a lack of connection between science research and actions on the ground; the federal government could facilitate those connections and capacity building opportunities between scientists and communities

Climate change

  • Permafrost melt is already impacting airport runways
  • Sharing information on environmental and climate change impacts can increase community interest and engagement

Implementation of the framework

  • All governments should be supportive of the framework so that there is consistency in implementation
  • The framework should organize existing programs to support it (e.g. multiple programs that support diesel reduction) and should not recreate these efforts
  • Both short-term thinking and long-term visions (i.e. beyond just the election cycle) is needed
  • The framework should be adaptable because the context changes so quickly
    • The discussion should focus on progress over solutions
    • The framework may need "emergency response plans" e.g. for melting sea ice
    • The framework may need a "review clause", i.e. points at which the framework needs to be adapted
  • The framework should consider how to support projects that address multiple issues
  • Are there specific actions that could be identified that cut across themes? e.g. land use plans that address capacity building, climate change, reconciliation, etc.
  • The framework should include accountability mechanisms to report back on the success of the framework to Northerners

Other comments

  • Governments should collaborate, streamline and present programs in an integrated manner to communities rather than communities having to figure out who to go to when
    • For example, the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada "Pang Project" bundled social service programs into one delivery mechanism (e.g. one application provided access to multiple lines of money)
  • Indigenous rights should be very explicit in the framework
  • Direction should come from Northerners

The Arctic in a global context

Discussion questions

  • What domestic interests and priorities should the Government of Canada pursue internationally?
  • What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for Canada's Arctic foreign and defence policy in the next 10 to 20 years?

Foreign policy

  • Canada’s policy should be to maintain peace, as per the founding intentions of the Arctic Council
  • Foreign policy should be viewed through lens of reconciliation, i.e. implementing United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and working in partnership with Northern Indigenous peoples
  • Canada should not proceed with foreign policy actions until reconciliation takes place (i.e. "we speak with one voice")

Foreign investment

  • Canada should develop a policy for direct foreign investment; there are countries not in the circumpolar region with intentions to invest (e.g. China); Canadian boundaries may be challenged
  • An idea from the Arctic Change conference in Québec City suggested the Arctic Council adopt a bank or other structure/policy to monitor and guide foreign investment in the Arctic
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Arctic proposed an Arctic Investment Protocol (i.e. guidelines for responsible investment in the Arctic) in 2015

Indigenous perspectives

  • Inuit were forcibly relocated for the sake of Canadian sovereignty; Canada should ensure this sacrifice has meaning, i.e. Canada continues to defend the sovereignty of the Arctic
  • Indigenous peoples need resources and support to have a voice at the Arctic Council

Environmental impacts in the Arctic

  • Climate change is having and will have a significant impact on the Arctic, including Arctic security
  • Marine litter and plastics are arriving in the Arctic from other locations

Other comments

  • The framework should acknowledge the sense of urgency; climate change and demographics will contribute to rapid change and 6 years from now our priorities may be different
  • The framework should be adaptable to the diversity of the Northern geographies and realities, which can vary by region and community

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