Arctic Policy Framework Roundtables Report, Youth virtual roundtables, February 14 to 21, 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.
Approximately 72 youth from across Canada participated over nine virtual roundtables. To protect the privacy of participants, the names of individuals are not disclosed.
About the report
This report synthesizes the input provided by participants across the 6 thematic areas:
- Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure
- Strong Arctic people and communities
- Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies
- Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge
- Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity
- The Arctic in a global context
Information gathered during this roundtable will be used as input to the development of the framework, along with information gathered at 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
Respect, and a North by Northerners
- A key theme throughout the discussions was the need for a profound respect for Northern Indigenous peoples, who have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years and whose culture and way of life need to be respected.
"One thing that would be cool to see is the notion of not creating a framework and then consulting communities, so much as a collaboration so that [community] presence is up front from the beginning of the policy."
- There was consensus amongst participants that Northerners must be in charge of their own future. This extended to expressing concern on the part of both Northern and Southern participants that feedback from those from the South was being sought and considered through these sessions. It was noted that – while all can have a voice – ultimately the decisions affecting the future of the North must be decided by Northerners.
- Northern Indigenous peoples must have autonomy over their lands and futures.
The need for adaptation
- Policies should reflect what we feel will occur, as opposed to what is currently occurring – they must take the need for adaptation into consideration.
"I want to make sure that the people in the north have a voice and are able to come up with solutions to the challenges they are facing in their everyday lives"
The power of people
- A theme throughout the discussion was the power of people and the importance of supporting, empowering, and inspiring community leaders.
- Participants noted innovative ways to mobilize local action; examples included having "pop-up think-and-do tanks" in communities to engage people, form social networks, and work locally to address issues of importance.
Connections and experiences
- Throughout the roundtables, participants noted the importance of interconnectivity and bridging gaps between peoples in the North and the South through shared experiences and learning.
Sustainability and the interconnectedness of discussion themes
- Participants noted the challenges of focusing on a single discussion theme, due to an inherent and profound interconnectivity between themes. Some of the examples noted by participants include connections between: economic opportunities and mental health; transportation infrastructure and food security; and economic development and the environment.
Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure
- Communication infrastructure, most notably reliable, affordable broadband internet access, was noted as especially important by many participants; this included the consideration of the internet as a basic need and human right.
- Participants noted that much Arctic communication is satellite-based, which is often costly and can be unreliable.
- Connectivity is fundamental to social and economic development and wellbeing of remote communities by enabling services such as e-health, e-learning, and e-counselling. However, some participants cautioned that while beneficial, these "e-services" are not perfect substitutes for in-person services.
- Some participants stated that the government should regulate telecommunications companies or use other levers to ensure cost and service levels in the North are comparable to Southern cities.
- Participants shared stories of challenges stemming from limited and expensive travel due to the current state of transportation infrastructure in much of Canada’s Arctic.
- More affordable and accessible transportation, including access to road infrastructure and less expensive air travel, have important benefits including connecting people and reducing the cost of shipped goods.
- Investing in ports – including the Churchill deep sea port and the Tuktoyaktuk port – is important to increasing economic activity, connectivity and protecting of sovereignty.
- Participants were excited about the potential of renewable technology, including solar and wind in Canada’s North and reducing reliance on diesel fuel.
- Canada should follow the example of other Arctic nations, including Scandinavian countries, and their progress towards implementing technologies such as solar, wind and bio-mass
Housing, medical care and other social infrastructure
- Social infrastructure was noted as a major issue by many participants, including ensuring access to affordable housing and medical care.
- While they recognized the challenges of remote, low density populations, participants expressed concern at the limited access to specialized health care.
- Remote healthcare, telehealth and e-health were noted as having the potential to support better access to health care and services – though this is contingent upon affordable, reliable broadband access.
- Additional potential solutions explored include programs or incentives for physicians to travel to remote, Northern communities and investing.
- Regional hubs were also explored as a potential solution – where select social infrastructure could be provided for a region rather than in each community – easing some challenges of accessibility.
The importance of partnerships
- While the government should ultimately be responsible for ensuring access to basic services, local peoples and communities are often best placed to manage and direct them.
- Partnerships can allow investment in infrastructure to flow through Indigenous groups and communities, empowering local peoples and allowing for investment decisions to be made locally.
- Local councils could directly manage or oversee services including wind and solar energy, agriculture (through local food councils), and the internet.
Strong Arctic people and communities
"Community wellness means not imposing our own beliefs but uplifting what is already there."
Local empowerment and Northern governance
- The importance of local decision-making in all aspects of Northerners’ futures was stressed by participants: "We need to take on a co-development community approach".
- Stories of individual initiatives were shared. One such story was about a participant’s parent, who drives a cooler truck the 2-week round trip from Inuvik, NWT to British Columbia and back, picking up fresh produce from BC farmers and bringing it back up North: "He also buys from farmers in BC. Fresh grown right out of the ground. We have the advantage of having that road for him to be able to do that".
Food security and local food
- Participants noted challenges with regard to access to fresh, affordable, nutritious foods in many parts of the Canadian Arctic.
"Creating opportunities to have a business out of the food that we have available would be much more beneficial than having the money given to a northern store to make it cheaper. It’s still $100 for a 12 pack of water… Sometimes you need to choose between feeding yourself and housing yourself – that’s not normal in a first world country."
- High prices and low availability can manifest in poor health outcomes and issues of food security.
- Support for local agriculture solutions – including greenhouses or cold weather container farms – could empower local communities to grow fresh food and vegetables.
- Participants noted the right of Arctic people – especially Indigenous peoples – to control what they eat, including both country food and store-bought food.
- Promoting country food and food sharing amongst communities, perhaps by funding hunters, could bring people together
"We need basic rights met when it comes to food security and housing…Instead of having communications from South to North, we need to have a better model as that type of communications is not working. Listening to what we have to say and how we want to live is important."
- Wellness is very connected to education and employment, a sense of purpose, and access to basic services – notably housing and health services as discussed in the previous section.
- Participants expressed intense concern about suicide rates in many parts of the North.
Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies
"Up here, a business that creates 50 jobs can have a huge impact on quality of life – it could really be beneficial"
The local economy; the innovation economy
- There was general optimism that some of the realities of life in the North currently thought of as challenges should be considered opportunities for innovation and growth. Innovation is key to solving Northern challenges related to food production, housing, transportation, search and rescue etc. For example, low sunlight and harsh conditions could spur innovations in agriculture and sustainable, remote living.
- Participants noted the importance of infrastructure in communities to have places to gather and economic policies that respect local customs and realities.
"A maker space in the north, there is currently only one in the Yukon, can have small offices for small business, meeting spaces, art spaces for carving or different traditional activities but done safety with the right ventilation or tools and equipment… a space for butchering and for processing wild food would be very important and people are hunting but there’s not a processing store to provide to generally to the community. If someone cannot process their meat in a sanitary place, it must be sent to Winnipeg to be packaged and sent back to the north to then sell. The policy is built against us as we cannot easily provide for our communities."
Mixed feelings on non-renewable resource extraction
- The topic of non-renewable resource extraction, including mining and oil & gas development, elicited a mixed response from participants.
- Some wanted to see a purposeful move away from the extractives-based economy, noting that it is unsustainable in the long run, and will further contribute to environmental degradation and climate change.
- Others felt non-renewable resources should be exploited in order to build a strong economy, but that it needs to be planned in a smart way respecting local peoples’ right to choose and the environment.
- It was noted that natural resource jobs are often high-paying – including labourers, journeymen, pipe builders, etc. – and that the spin-off benefits can lead to other well-paying jobs.
"Sustainability is most important…if you like to go on the land and hunt, seasonal jobs have off seasons and they can go off hunting and provide wild game to their family."
Building local capacity and expertise
- Participants noted the need to develop local capacity to build and maintain electrical grids and infrastructure. Hands-on skills and vocational training need to be part of the education system.
"There are a lot of people coming from the South to fill positions in the North. I think education is important, as there are people who are not educated in certain fields, so they cannot fill needed positions. Education and training for people in the North [is critical] so they can participate in the Arctic economy."
- Participants discussed the growth potential for culturally sensitive Arctic tourism, especially as sea ice melt makes Northern communities more accessible by ship.
- Participants expressed support for tourism that could help educate visitors about Northern people and cultures, while being a sustainable source of economic activity.
"I think instead of focusing on hunting, they should focus on including elders, northern lights and Indigenous cultures for tourism."
Arctic science and Indigenous Knowledge
"In the NWT, you may graduate from high school in a community, but your education level is not the same as the rest of Canada. You would need to pay for another year of schooling. There is a large disadvantage. We don’t have places, like a university, to study. And it’s hard to have researchers who are from the North to do research without those facilities."
Education as bedrock
- Education is important for Northerners in all aspects of life – this is especially true for youth. It is a key responsibility of government to ensure high-quality education for all Canadians.
- E-learning can address some of the existing deficiencies in Northern education, but can’t replace the value of in-person education.
"Within the North we have a lot of Indigenous people. Education is not coinciding with traditional ways (story telling) and I think we should bring those ways forward. Use the ways which people are more comfortable and used to learning in."
The importance of Traditional Knowledge
- Participants noted that there is a lack of Indigenous knowledge being transferred to the younger generation, leading to issues including an increase in mortality of hunters due to lack of skills and knowledge. There have been a few programs in the Arctic that pair youth with older members in the community to ensure that knowledge is transferred. The government could support the growth of such programs.
"I want Traditional Knowledge to be as important as western science."
Post-secondary education and research
- There is a need to establish a post-secondary institution in the North so that Northerners don’t have to travel half way across the country to get an education that puts them at the same level as other Canadians.
- All universities should have programs that focus on Arctic research both to increase knowledge and ensure more people are exposed to Arctic issues.
- Academic research grants focused on Arctic science and Traditional Knowledge should be available. Grants could have components that include engagement with youth to get them interested from an early age to inspire them want to become scientists and continue the research.
"It would be good to have a University in the Arctic. People from outside the North can attend and be influenced by the locale of the university, Indigenous culture and knowledge."
Community science and local data
- Participants discussed the opportunities of engaging local people in the collection of scientific data and supporting the development of "citizen scientists".
- Participants shared stories and anecdotes of citizen science including:
- A secondary school program in Northern Quebec where students gathered ecological data, including counting fruit, measuring the thickness of snow and community mapping
- A pilot project in George River, where local people undertook water sampling to gather baseline data – as well as gathered some traditional knowledge through interviews with Elders and incorporating it into a geographical database
- Seeking support from Indigenous people – particularly elders – through participation in helicopter surveys
- Participation by Indigenous people must be meaningful, including both data collection and interpretation of the data – which is often closely linked to their lives.
- It is important to engage and capture the interest of people in the North while they’re young: "it’s not something that just comes one day and you decide you want to study… it’s important to have scientist who are working in the North to engage with younger people".
"Experiential education seems effective in training leaders in youth that could be government leaders one day."
Encouraging shared experiences and bridging gaps
- Participants based in the North and the South noted the importance of shared experiences and connecting Canadians from across the country to share and learn from one another.
"If there were more youth exchanges with other communities there could be less ignorance and more connection."
- It was noted that there is ignorance in the South about the North due to the lack of education and exposure from a young age.
"It’s important to respect them [animals] and to plan for them when building."
Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity
A changing climate
- Many participants consider climate change to be one of the overarching issues affecting their future.
- The impacts of climate change on the Arctic are far-reaching. Examples noted by participants include:
- The effects of climate change and melting permafrost on the built environment (e.g. housing, winter roads, etc.)
- The potential for greater shipping caused by melting sea ice and associated impacts on fish and marine mammals
- The increased risk of traditional activities such as hunting (e.g. increased dangers of hunting due to weak sea ice)
- Coastal erosion near communities caused by sea level rise
- Participants are also concerned that melting permafrost would release methane, furthering the impacts of climate change.
"The environment is changing drastically in the North compared to the South. My traditional community had a lake that totally disappeared because of melted permafrost."
Conservation and biodiversity
- Participants considered the unique ecosystems and biodiversity of the Arctic to be of extreme importance.
- The impacts of development, most notably non-renewable resource extraction, were of concern to many participants.
- Impacts to species vital to traditional ways of life – including caribou and muskox – were discussed at length by participants, with concern that dwindling numbers could harm traditional ways of life and reduce food security.
- Environmental policies are needed to ensure that the environment is clean, and country food is not contaminated.
- Melting permafrost and release of methane have impacts on climate change and infrastructure, but impacts on species and biodiversity also need to be considered.
- As with other focus areas, participants noted the importance of consulting with Indigenous people "who have been on the land for millennia and whose perspectives, knowledge and best practices are most important".
The Arctic in a global context
Engaging with the international community
"By engaging with international partners, we can strengthen our own country and culture."
- Participants stressed the importance of engaging with international Arctic partners (including Russia and the United States) and other stakeholders and the importance of multi-literalism.
- There needs to be more awareness of the Inuit in the global community. Economic measures against the seal hunt have reduced the ability of Inuit to support themselves.
"One of my concerns, as the Arctic becomes more accessible, in terms of transportation, is that it doesn’t get lost in the global context. That sense of belonging and ownership doesn’t shift outside the Arctic. Part of sustainable tourism is that the Arctic stays strong in holding its own space in the global context, as opposed to getting lost in it."
Sovereignty and influence with an opening Arctic
- There is a sense among participants that the Arctic is opening – and there is an urgency for Arctic communities and Canada to take advantage of opportunities.
- A stronger Arctic and greater influence and authority of the International Arctic Council, could help strengthen Canadian Arctic sovereignty and give more weight to Arctic perspectives and ideals.
- The combination of melting sea ice and interest in offshore resources may bring Arctic lands and waters into contention if Canada does not define and assert its borders in the international arena.