Arctic Policy Framework Roundtables Report, Social sciences and humanities, Ottawa, February 9, 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 the social sciences and humanities community 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

Key themes and messages that were repeated throughout the day and often applied to multiple themes are listed below, in no particular order of importance.

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?

Identifying infrastructure needs

  • National standards should be defined and applied in the North for basic infrastructure needs (e.g. housing, water, etc.)
    • Lack of housing and crowded conditions can lead to significant social, health and economic consequences (e.g. lack of sleep, lung disease, lower performance at work, etc.)
    • A question that could be addressed through social science research: Why are the standards for the North different from the South?
  • Existing infrastructure, such as the Churchill port and the ArcticNet research network, should be maintained
  • More investment is needed for science infrastructure (e.g. icebreakers, labsequipment, translators to support social science and health research
  • Sea ice should be acknowledged as critical infrastructure for Indigenous traditional activities
  • Military satellites could be used to support public broadband access in the North
  • Infrastructure should be supported by public services at a comparable level to the South
  • "Small wins" should be considered (e.g. gathering place for women, huts for hunters to keep warm, places for the communities to gather)

Applying a systems approach to infrastructure planning

  • A long-term, systems approach is needed for planning infrastructure e.g. housing needs water, sewage and energy infrastructure; food suppliers need boats and ports, etc.
  • Communities should be involved and lead these projects so that they address community needs and are suitable for Arctic conditions
  • An example of implementing Northern public services successfully is the gas tax; it was a multi-government approach to provide funds directly to communities and regions, bypassing federal and provincial/territorial governments
  • Raising the standards of living in the North can generate additional economic benefits due to attracting and retaining new residents and generate substantial future savings
  • Climate change may be the issue that brings greater attention to the North

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?

Defining well-being

  • Many participants agreed that Northerners should define what a "strong community" means to them, including what to measure and how to measure it
  • Alternative (including Indigenous) measures suggested by communities for health, economic and social well-being should be considered (i.e. beyond standard measures like GDP)
  • We can learn from previous efforts of international Indigenous groups that have identified and operationalized programs to promote well-being
  • Community-based social science research can inform gaps in well-being, but this should occur in parallel with government programs

Role of health

  • Health plays an important role in this theme, including social determinants of health

Infrastructure deficit

  • There is a need for government investment in basic infrastructure and services (e.g. lowering food prices, reducing tuberculosis rates, etc.) in a way that facilitates community-based decision-making

Other comments

  • Responsibility should be transferred from federal government to the community, regional and territorial level to allow funding to respond to local and regional priorities
  • The quality of public services (e.g. housing, health, education, water, etc.) should increase in the North

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?

Alternative economic approaches in the North

  • Canada should foster the identification and development of alternative Footnote 1 economic approaches in the Arctic context (e.g. Northern innovation, alternative education systems, Northern knowledge, arts and crafts, traditional or cultural activities etc.)
    • This could be tested using pilot projects, with the understanding that approaches will vary at the community level
    • This could include leveraging training funds to support cultural practices
  • Economic development should be measured in community-based outcomes (i.e. how does it contribute to community well-being?) rather than monetary or traditional economic outcomes
  • Workplaces should value both traditional and "wage-based" activities (e.g. allow workers to leave early to chop wood in the daylight)

Leveraging research funds for community development

  • Connections between research findings and policy should increase, particularly in the following areas:
    • Impacts of and mitigation for economic leakage (i.e. from North to South)
    • Systemic impacts of social assistance or employment insurance payments (e.g. people turning jobs down because it will impact their employment insurance payments)
    • Long-term impacts of community dependency on single-industry employers (e.g. mining, construction)
    • Sustainable food systems in the North
  • Research funds can also be leveraged to support community-based social enterprises
    • For example, in Clyde River they leveraged research funds to fund hunters measuring ice activity, transferring knowledge to youth, etc.

Foreign investment in communities

  • Foreign investment is not seen as a threat or concern for Northern communities; they are more preoccupied with meeting basic needs (e.g. housing, food security)
  • Need to consider ramifications of using foreign capital in sustaining economies in the Arctic and be aware of what foreign investors are promoting re: ideas of economic development
  • There are opportunities to create economic development, knowledge mobilization and experimentation between Greenland and Nunavut

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?


  • Northerners should "lead" research rather than "participate." (e.g. Northerners select and execute research priorities as principal researchers); this supports self-determination in the North
  • Rather than "integrating" Indigenous knowledge into science, we should equally value the complementary systems of Indigenous knowledge and science
    • Furthermore, traditional knowledge is not just a collection of knowledge, but a spiritual practice; we are misrepresenting it if we look at it as knowledge only

Collaborative research efforts

  • Investment is needed for collaborative science that engages Indigenous, local and academic knowledge
  • Southern researchers should receive training in Northern culture, history, politics prior to performing research; this could be achieved through mentorship from faculty with experience in the North
  • Southern research perspectives (or outcomes of Southern research) may be quite different from Northern research perspectives (i.e. may misinterpret Northern perspectives)
  • The Canadian Institutes of Health Research started with less than 5 Indigenous health scholars in 2002; this has now increased to more than 50% of all scholars; positive change is possible and is resulting in new research questions and approaches

Institutional barriers to supporting Northern researchers

  • The three territories are grouped into one bucket of funding, whereas each province has its own bucket of funding
  • Lack of funding for Indigenous undergraduates
  • The Northern Scientific Training Program is seed funding only; quality research should have a longer-term investment
  • Researchers are sometimes "playing the game" to get funding, i.e. engaging or partnering with Indigenous peoples to "check the box" rather than doing so meaningfully
  • Partnering with Southern researchers can be a lost opportunity cost, i.e. funding does not cover administrative costs for Northern institutions, which reduces their ability to build more capacity and access more funding
  • Funding systems are based on metrics that are not always the best representation of Northern communities and/or not accessible to Northern institutions
  • Funding for Northern research is often directed to Southern graduate students
  • Natural science funding is often prioritized above social science funding

"Our vision of moving forward to 2030, is to start to admit and realize that there are some real institutional barriers that have been set up long ago, that maybe we could look at and find ways together to improve" - Scot Nickels, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Ethics boards

  • Ethics boards should be located in the North and engage communities in ethics review of Northern projects
  • Ethics boards currently have limited or no funds to engage communities in ethics review

Post-secondary education

  • We are far behind other Northern countries on post-secondary education (i.e. no Canadian Arctic university); there should be investment/support in post-secondary institutions
  • We could learn from other Northern university approaches to research partnerships
  • Indigenous inclusion should be fostered in the education system more broadly
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and/or other programs could fund younger Northern students to support their potential to be researchers in the future

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?

Integrated community and environmental planning

  • By conserving environment and biodiversity, you may also improve or impact (e.g. if banning caribou hunts) Indigenous peoples health and well-being
  • Rightsholders should be meaningfully consulted on how they’d like to manage the species, i.e. consider exceptions for sustenance harvest or a ceremonial hunt to ensure skills are not lost
  • Community and environmental planning should be approached holistically and funding programs need to accommodate that reality

Protected areas

  • Why are we establishing protected areas - based on science, Indigenous knowledge, or to meet commitments?
  • A positive example is the Nunatsiavut government-led marine management plan that protects areas for biodiversity and ensures economic opportunities (e.g. fisheries)
    • The marine management plan is being developed in partnership with an "external partners working group" with a variety of federal department representatives
    • The Nunatsiavut government is also keen to develop a co-management agreement for international waters near their coastline
  • An adaptive management approach for protected areas should be used that relies both on science and Indigenous knowledge
    • Funding should support local gathering and management of Indigenous knowledge

Data management

  • Communities should define research priorities and be involved in gathering, analysing, storing and using scientific and Indigenous knowledge data
    • Infrastructure and funding should support this process
    • This data should be used to inform conservation plans and management
  • There is a lot of misunderstanding about how traditional knowledge should be captured, analyzed and used; there is existing work that we can build from, e.g. Brenda Parlee’s 2014 paper "Using traditional knowledge to adapt to ecological change: Denésǫłıné monitoring of Caribou movements"
  • Northern colleges (as per research licensing regulations in each territory) and some land claim groups manage data, but they don’t necessarily have the funds and capacity to do so

Protecting whole ecosystems

  • More funds and research are focused on megafauna (e.g. polar bears, caribou, etc.) but we need to look at the whole ecosystem e.g. migratory birds, less "interesting" topics
  • Conservation efforts should include those that are transboundary between territories, land claims, national borders, etc. (e.g. migratory birds, caribou, impacts of shipping, etc.)
    • For example, the Inuit Circumpolar Council created a transboundary commission to study the North Water Polynya (one of the most biologically diverse marine areas) and push for Inuit co-management (Greenland and Canada)

Understanding holistic impacts of economic development projects

  • A mining project may appear to have greater economic benefit than fisheries, tourism, or harvesting activities, but this depends on how you define "benefits"
    • E.g. British Columbia’s value is in tourism and real estate (i.e. beauty of environment), which may exceed the economic value that pipelines could bring
  • Asset-based (economic) planning is an approach used by some communities in the Yukon that may be useful to examine

The Arctic in a global context

Discussion questions

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

Proactively preparing for future trends

  • It is challenging to be proactive and forward-looking, given the complex governance structures in the North
  • Arctic colleges are well-positioned to support proactive and forward-looking plans for the Arctic, as they have more time and scope to do so than governments
  • Participants identified a few themes that will likely require proactive planning prior to 2030:
    • The acceleration of climate change, which could impact ecosystems, access to country foods, shipping routes, etc.
    • The population boom in the Arctic, which underscores the urgency for action
    • An evolving geopolitical context, e.g. China and Russia developing shipping in the Arctic

Emergency response capabilities

  • There is a gap in emergency response and surveillance services, as the Coast Guard is based exclusively in Iqaluit
  • Many participants agreed there is a need for investment in emergency response capabilities, in part to implement the commitments outlined in the Arctic Council’s Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, particularly given the expected increase in shipping traffic in the Northwest Passage
  • Academic and government offices could partner to collect data to support emergency response operations

Infrastructure deficit

  • The port of Churchill is the only port on our Northern coastline and is currently closed due to lack of investment
  • There may be opportunities for Chinese-Canadian cooperation and investment in Northern infrastructure
  • Military satellites launched into the Polar orbit could be used to expand broadband connectivity and weather forecasting across the Canadian Arctic

Investing in and promoting education and research

  • There is a lack of funding to pursue collaborative social science research with other Arctic countries (e.g. attending international meetings)
  • Canada is not always using the latest research and technology discoveries (e.g. a new urine test developed in the United States that can detect tuberculosis within 12 hours)
  • Continued investment in Arctic colleges and research centres is needed, which should enable knowledge mobility across the three territories
    • Social sciences, health and Indigenous knowledge tend to get less funding than the physical sciences
  • Canada should better promote the North in international events (e.g. Canada is the "theme country" in the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, where Canada’s Northern literature should be promoted)
  • Most research in the North is multi-disciplinary (e.g. involves health, social sciences and natural sciences) and involves partnerships (e.g. Northern colleges and Southern universities) and funds should support these realities
    • Could consider merging the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Data management

  • There is a need for a centralized agency to coordinate and manage information and data in the North; currently this data is held in a variety of government departments and academics
    • For example, United States data is easier to access than Canadian data
    • Could learn from the Transportation Safety Board, who has posted their data online
  • Data management should be supported by connectivity and information technology infrastructure
  • Data management can inform better solutions to Northern challenges and is tied to all of the themes being discussed today

Domestic and international development linkages

  • There was some discussion on whether Canada needs to "get its own house in order" prior to engaging or leading on the international stage; it was concluded that domestic and international efforts should occur in parallel, while acknowledging that addressing domestic challenges (e.g. suicide, housing, etc.) would strengthen Canada’s international position
  • Domestic development priorities should also inform international priorities and strategy
  • Several participants urged that Canada take a leadership role in addressing collective challenges and opportunities in the Arctic with other international governments; one participant added that this should include promoting self-determination for Indigenous peoples

Other comments

  • Several participants recognized the importance of the Canadian government’s position that the Northwest Passage is internal waters, but cautioned that this should not result in trade or international movement barriers
  • There should be greater collaboration within the "North American Arctic", i.e. a region that encompasses Alaska, Greenland and Canada’s North
    • E.g. Greenland is considering using St. John’s as a port
    • Could better engage with other Northern universities
  • Not all international governments recognize that Northerners should be a key partner and contributor to international dialogue on the Arctic
  • The framework should acknowledge that the Arctic is in a crisis situation due to population growth, climate change, poor health indicators, etc.

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