Arctic Policy Framework Regional Roundtable Session: Yellowknife, January 17, 2018

This is a summary of the Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtable discussion in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, on January 17, 2018.

The summary captures comments raised by participants in the discussion.

The views raised in the discussion are those of various participants and do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada.

Participants:

Representatives of:

  • Arctic Athabaskan Council
  • Dehcho First Nations
  • Dene Nation
  • Gwich'in Tribal Council
  • Katlodeeche First Nation
  • Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation
  • North Slave Métis Alliance
  • Northwest Territory Métis Nation
  • Smith's Landing First Nation
  • Tłįchǫ Government
  • Government of Northwest Territories

Overarching themes and messages from the roundtable

Strong Arctic people and communities

Social challenges and well-being

  • Participants called for the development of a social system that:
    •  supports the pillars of mental health:
      • spirituality
      • language
      • culture
      • integrity
    • also includes an emphasis on capacity building and relationships to the land
  • Participants emphasized the importance of focusing on basic needs, such as food and housing, which will facilitate addressing more complex issues
  • Investments in housing, participants said, would have a positive impact on a number of other social challenges, including education
  • Indigenous communities are experiencing continuing gaps in quality of life and well-being, despite increased self-government
    • These challenges are common to all Indigenous communities, irrespective of whether they are parties to treaties (modern and historic) or not
    • To address these challenges, participants called for a greater partnership between Indigenous governments and communities and public governments, including the Government of the Northwest Territories
  • One participant described the high percentage of Indigenous populations made up by youth, and some of the social challenges that youth are facing
    •  "Basically we have kids having kids," the participant noted
  • Greater efforts are needed to provide opportunities so women and youth can stay in their communities
    • When women leave Northern communities, it is for educational attainment and better opportunities for their children

Culture and language

  • Support for Indigenous culture is central to addressing a range of other social challenges
  • Participants described the following as key:
    • passing along language and culture to the next generation
    • teaching Indigenous youth that their culture is valuable and to be celebrated
  • Youth need to be supported so they have the skills, knowledge and confidence to live in the "2 worlds" of Indigenous and Western cultures
    • One participant used the image of "being strong like two people":
      • understanding Indigenous culture and language
      • having the skills to participate in broader Canadian society
  • Participants called for greater government support for Indigenous languages
    • They noted the level of government support for French-language education, even in communities with small numbers of francophones, and contrasted it against a lack of government support for Dene-language schools
    • Participants noted that Indigenous governments are the primary funders of language and culture programming, and said that neither the federal nor the territorial government provide substantial resources in these areas
    • Consequently, language and culture programming draws a lot of resources from Indigenous governments

An Arctic Policy Framework

  • One participant described the Arctic Policy Framework as a positive opportunity
    • Noted the Government of Canada is making substantive changes in its relationship with Indigenous peoples
    • For instance through co-development of a new fiscal relationship between Canada and First Nations
  • Some participants did not see themselves reflected in the term "Arctic"
    • They noted they had not seriously engaged in the Arctic Policy Framework process until now because they assumed the process did not include them
    • Participants saw themselves as "Northerners" or "sub-Arctic"
    • One participant felt:
      • the term "Northerner" had assimilationist connotations
      • the Arctic Policy Framework process offers an opportunity for Indigenous people to define "Arctic" on their own terms
    • Another participant expressed the view that the term "Arctic" implies that Canada is more interested in the circumpolar world than it is in the Northern regions of Canada
  • Participants described challenges around defining the term "Arctic"
    • It was felt that, because federal departments can have differing definitions of the term, there is inconsistency in eligibility for programming
  • One participant was critical of the number of federal departments involved in the Arctic Policy Framework
    • Described past and ongoing problems in which federal bureaucrats "pass the buck" from one department to another and fail to address pressing issues
  • Participants noted that Métis need to be involved in the co-development of the Arctic Policy Framework
  • Some participants expressed concern that public engagement on the Arctic Policy Framework will not have an impact on the framework's development
    • In their view, the Government of Canada has already decided what it wants to do in terms of the framework
  • Participants called for participation in the implementation of the framework and for some type of mechanism that would allow them to see if the framework is meeting its objectives
  • Participants felt that the Arctic Policy Framework will have to be flexible in order to meet the needs of diverse communities
  • Participants discussed the importance of a consistent approach to key issues by governments, such as environmental sustainability, despite changes that may occur in leadership at the political level

Reconciliation and the legacy of colonialism

  • Participants emphasized the centrality of nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationships between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples
    • It was important, they said, for First Nations not to be seen as simply extensions of the territorial governments
  • Some participants expressed optimism regarding Canada's commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples
  • Participants spoke of:
    • the importance of "naming problems as they are"
    • colonialism as the root of a number of challenges facing Indigenous peoples
    • the reality of colonialism's multigenerational legacy
  • Programs and services need to be long-term to alleviate the negative experiences of colonialist institutions such as the residential school system
  • Participants noted the need to:
    • change the underlying thinking around policy development
    • ask if current approaches are perpetuating legacies of colonialism and structures of assimilation

Land claim negotiation and implementation

  • Treaty negotiation and implementation should take precedence with respect to:
    • the Government of Canada's relationship to Indigenous peoples
    • federal activity in Canada's North
  • Participants called for the Government of Canada to respect the spirit and intent of treaties
    • There was particular discussion around Treaty Eight
    • The Government of Canada was criticized by one participant for what was described as a narrow interpretation of Treaty Eight
    • The Arctic Policy Framework, the participant said, should honour and support the implementation of Treaty Eight 
  • One participant noted that treaties take legal precedence over policies, and that the focus should be on settling and implementing treaties rather than on policy development
  • One participant described how these treaties affect all of the other issues at play in the North, including food security
    • The participant recalled how treaties were meant to provide a basis in which Indigenous people agreed to welcome newcomers to the North and to share with them
    • If this concept of sharing could be instilled into the framework, it would provide a foundation for moving forward

Treaty rights and jurisdictional challenges

  • It was emphasized that treaty rights are fundamental, and that these treaties supersede federal, territorial and provincial jurisdictions and boundaries
    • Therefore, in the view of some participants, treaty rights override federal, territorial and provincial powers and authorities
    • Jurisdictional challenges create divisions within communities
  • Participants were critical of jurisdictional issues related to service delivery in areas such as health care, particularly for transboundary Indigenous groups such as Smith's Landing First Nation, which has communities in Alberta and the Northwest Territories
  • Participants called for greater accountability and transparency when it comes to interacting with governments

Challenges with government funding, programming and engagement

  • Participants noted that many Indigenous governments are so invested in long-term negotiations processes that they do not have sufficient capacity left over to engage on important issues such as education
  • Participants described the challenges of trying to compete with the wages and benefits offered by public governments in terms of staffing
  • Participants called for:
    • an increase in direct funding from the federal government to Indigenous governments, rather than funding via the territorial government
    • multi-year funding that can support long-term visions
    • streamlined access to federal programming and funds
    • simplified reporting requirements
      • Current processes were described as onerous and a burden on organizations with already limited capacity
  • Participants said funding agreements are often premised on reimbursement for previously spent funds
    • Some communities don't  have resources to spend first and seek reimbursement late
    • These communities are then forced to borrow privately
  • Participants felt:
    • federal programs are insufficiently results oriented
    • there are no opportunities for provide feedback on whether or not they have benefited from particular programs
  • Some participants were critical of federal departments removing resources from the area
    • In particular, participants expressed concern about the reduction of the presence maintained by Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Inuvik
  • Participants were critical of:
    • the heavy level of government engagement, often organized on very short timelines
    • engagements which do not meet the needs of communities
    • the timelines provided by governments for legislative reviews
      • When governments are interested in doing a review they often want it completed quickly
      • Indigenous organizational capacity is depleted because of the need to keep up with government timelines

Service delivery

  • Participants emphasized:
    • that appropriate service delivery mechanisms are key to ensuring positive outcomes
    • the need for increased Indigenous participation in all facets of service design and delivery
      • Better social outcomes, such as higher graduation rates, might result from applying the lands and resources co-management model to social, health and educational services, through the co-development, co-design and co-implementation of programming
  • Participants called for Indigenous governments to have sufficient access to A-base/ongoing funding so that they do not have to tap into other funding sources in order to provide services.
  • Participants noted problems related to service delivery:
    • mechanisms for funding application and service delivery are onerous and burdensome on Indigenous communities and governments
    • this can sap their ability to deliver services
  • Participants described the need for a clearer understanding on how Métis people can access programming related to well-being

Devolution

  • Some participants were critical of the Northwest Territories devolution agreement
  • Some felt Indigenous governments shouldn't have supported it
  • Others said their governments supported the agreement, but did not wish to see it extended until certain issues are addressed

Health care

  • Health care access, particularly access challenges in smaller communities, was a major concern of participants
    • Communities need consistent access to doctors, rather than a rotational approach in which doctors are cycled through communities
    • There are continuing challenges related to mental health and addiction in Northern communities
  • Participants highlighted:
    • the need for more addiction treatment centres
    • the need for a broader network of health care providers through the territory, rather than a concentration in Yellowknife
    • the importance of cultural awareness among health care providers
    • the need for more Indigenous and Northern health care providers
    • An increase of Northerners in the medical professions could help alleviate the shortage of care providers in the North

Climate change and environment

  • Participants discussed the fundamental role of the environment in supporting strong and healthy communities in the North
    • They underscored the need for cooperative government-to-government relationships in the management of land and water
    • Indigenous people, it was emphasized, have a right to reside in places that support a sense of belonging and well-being
  • The impact of climate change was discussed
  • Participants spoke of the importance of recognizing the interconnected nature of social and environmental challenges, describing the interrelationship between diverse issues such as food security, health care, well-being and environmental security

Water security

  • Participants emphasized:
    • the importance of water security to communities in the Northwest Territories
    • that significant issues such as food security and community well-being cannot be decoupled from water security
  • Community access to drinking water, and the need for on-going monitoring, was discussed.
  • Participants described the impact of "de-watering" in the Northwest Territories, noting the cumulative impacts of resource development on ecosystems
  • Participants discussed concerns around damming, notably the Site C project in northeastern British Columbia, and its impact on water security in the Northwest Territories

Food issues and food security

  • Participants described the importance of building capacity to allow people to harvest and maintain a traditional relationship to the land as a source of food and nutrition
  • One participant said, "food security isn't about what we can get at the grocery store; it's about what you can get on the land"
  • Participants called for greater community control over food policy and planning
  • Participants discussed:
    • the relationship between food security and culture
      • There are close links between Dene culture and language and the caribou
      • Decline of the caribou impacts food security, but also the integrity of language and culture
      • Food security issues cannot be separated from broader cultural concerns
    • the need for alternatives to flying in food to remote communities
    • the impact of changes in weather and water levels on transportation infrastructure including marine infrastructure, which can raise the prices of goods and increase food insecurity
  • Some participants said Nutrition North Canada is not effective, and has not been successful in supporting the provision of healthy foods.
    • Certain small communities with ice road and ferry access are not deemed eligible for the program
    • These communities are often cut off from access
    • They pointed to this as an example of a federal program that isn't designed to meet local needs
  • Participants discussed the need to address regulatory barriers that hinder the sale of country food

Education, capacity building and skills development

  • Participants stressed the importance of an education system that:
    • includes Indigenous values as well as the elements of a "Western" curricula
    • is based on the relationship of Indigenous people to the land
    • includes an emphasis on the value of life
  • Capacity building for local and Indigenous governments and organizations is important, in order to allow communities to meet their own needs in a broad range of areas, including housing and health
  • Skills development will allow Northerners to access local employment opportunities that often go to people from the south
  • Participants discussed means to enable people to stay in the North
    • Northerners need to be able to study, work and live in their own communities
    • Participants discussed a range of possibilities for addressing this issue, including the concept of a Canadian Arctic University
  • Participants called for:
    • an improvement to the education system, noting that many high school graduates have to take additional courses in order to be accepted into college or university
    • a flexible approach to capacity-building on the part of governments, noting that communities will have distinctive needs, opportunities and resources

Justice

  • Participants discussed:
    • differences between the "Western" approach, which was seen as focused on incarceration, and an Indigenous approach that focuses on the offender making amends to the community
    • the importance of pardons, and noted that criminal records remain a serious barrier to employment
  • Incarceration is very expensive for the community, and alternative means for offenders to be accountable to communities should be explored
  • The use of the community for rehabilitation was discussed, as were links between rehabilitation and community development
  • Crime is a symptom of broader social issues, participants noted, and crime reduction can be achieved through addressing root causes

Emergency response

  • Participants discussed the need for stronger engagement of Indigenous people in emergency response
    • Indigenous people know the land and waterways, and have a great deal to contribute
  • Participants pointed to the Canadian Rangers as a positive example of Indigenous participation in emergency response

Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure

  • Participants discussed:
    •  Mackenzie Valley Highway
    •  Gray's Bay Road and Port Project
    •  a potential road from Yellowknife to Rankin's Inlet
    •  a port in Tuktoyaktuk
    •  a bridge over the Peel River
  • Participants talked about the need for equitable access to broadband, at a level comparable to southern standards
  • Participants expressed concerns over a lack of enforcement on the part of government when it comes to cost overruns for infrastructure contracts
  • Increased private sector engagement in infrastructure development, and a willingness on the part of government to spend what is required to build high quality and Northern-appropriate infrastructure, was recommended by participants
  • Fuel surcharges, airport fees, luggage and freight costs were all seen as placing burdens on Northerners

Jurisdictional challenges, treaties and land use plans

  • Participants discussed ongoing challenges related to jurisdiction and the environmental impact of projects in neighbouring jurisdictions
    • They made particular reference to the Site C dam project in British Columbia, which was seen as having potential negative impacts on:
      • water
      • marine transportation
      • food security
      • Indigenous well-being
    • Participants emphasized that their treaty rights supersede provincial and territorial jurisdictions and boundaries, and that these rights must be taken into account in the development of projects such as Site C
  • Participants discussed the need to make better use of Indigenous and local land use plans in infrastructure planning
  • Participants called for the Arctic Policy Framework to provide capacity and resources for implementing land use plans, particularly in the context of resource development

Climate change and environment

  • Participants discussed:
    • the impact of climate change on infrastructure, including ice roads as well
    • the impact of changing water levels on marine transportation and energy infrastructure
  • Lower water levels reduce the energy generated through hydroelectric dams
    • that means communities are more reliant on diesel
    • diesel use produces other environmental impacts
  • Participants emphasized the importance of "thinking outside the box" in terms of infrastructure, pointing to the need to invest in forms of infrastructure such as historic trails between communities, which play an important role in the North.
  • Participants discussed the impact of infrastructure on broader environmental issues, including food security

Indigenous ownership, values and knowledge

  • Participants discussed:
    • forms of community and Indigenous ownership over local infrastructure
    • the importance of Indigenous values such as sustainability, suggesting that this is one of the reasons that Indigenous people are so open to forms of alternative energy
  • Indigenous and local knowledge, particularly knowledge of the land, was cited as a valuable and under-used resource in infrastructure planning
  • Stronger engagement of Northerners in infrastructure planning was encouraged

A holistic approach

  • Participants discussed the need for regional planning of infrastructure priorities, in order to take into account how projects can benefit multiple communities and to move away from a project-by-project approach
  • A more holistic approach that aligns federal, territorial and community planning could result in greater benefits that more appropriately meet community needs
  • Similarly, a "bundling approach," in which projects include multiple forms of infrastructure (i.e. transportation and communications) could have broad positive benefits
  • Long-term planning is also seen as key in the development of energy infrastructure, including forms of alternative energy such as wind and solar power

Social and economic dimensions of infrastructure

  • The socio-economic impacts of large infrastructure projects need to be taken into account during project assessments
  • Infrastructure projects were seen as potential drivers for training, employment and greater self-sufficiency for Northerners
  • Capacity building could include training local people to maintain alternative energy infrastructure
  • Some participants called for a greater focus on home ownership, arguing that the current social housing model leads to increased dependency
  • Participants called for regular baseline assessment of housing conditions, and the development of policies to address gaps
  • Participants described homelessness as a new problem in the region, related to a host of other issues, such as high rent and mental health challenges driven by housing insecurity
  • Participants felt that the region lacked the health care infrastructure needed to address issues such as mental health and addiction
  • A focus on Northern health care services, it was suggested, is needed to avoid sending patients south, a practice that was described as undercutting Northern communities

Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies

Sustainability

  • Participants said strong economic development means sustainable economic development.
  • Participants noted:
    • there needs to be a commitment to a sustainable approach by governments
    • this approach should remain consistent even if there are changes in political leadership
  • Participants discussed:
    • challenges between balancing environmental concerns and economic development
      • this balance is difficult to achieve, because activity in one area can affect other areas
    • how the concept of sustainability was core to Indigenous people long before contact with Europeans
  • Participants emphasized the need for Indigenous people to be involved in decision-making regarding lands and resources.
  • Participants discussed how the concept of sustainability was core to Indigenous people long before contact with Europeans, and discussed ongoing pressure on Indigenous worldviews due to the impact of the residential schools experience and the broader colonial legacy.
    • As a result of these changes, some participants felt that the way people are able to meet their needs (housing, food etc.) is no longer sustainable.
    • Participants called for a culture shift in terms of how success, capacity and fulfillment are defined
      • These definitions, it was argued, should not be closely tied to monetary gain
      • Indigenous standards of success should be applied
      • It should be recognized that these standards often differ from those used by governments
    • For youth to thrive, participants said, traditional ways of life should be valued alongside more "modern" ways to earn a living
      • Young people should be able to draw on differing perspectives on what it is to live a meaningful life
  • Some participants expressed concern that the concept of "sustainable development" of non-renewable resources is a form of "green washing"
    • They noted that sustainable resource development is possible, but that it needs to be undertaken in partnership with Indigenous rights-holders
  • Some participants were critical of the mining industry, arguing that:
    •  it tends to benefit workers from other regions rather than local people
    • governments do not charge mining companies sufficient royalties
    • mining operations take a major toll on infrastructure

Capacity building

  • Participants said that Indigenous governments have capacity, expertise and knowledge, but require sustained support
  • Participants emphasized the importance of education, capacity building and proactive approaches on the part of communities and their members in building up local economies
  • Developing local expertise, rather than flying in people from the south, was seen as key to economic development
  • For those Northerners who leave and seek higher education, there are no homes or jobs for them to return to in many communities, nor are there social or recreational facilities to help draw and retain workers
  • Participants discussed the role of Northerners in a more automated economy
    • How can people be trained to use remote technologies in industries such as mining?

Diversification

  • Participants discussed the importance of economic diversification, noting:
    • not all regions will have access to major resource development projects
    • natural resource development does produce jobs
    • resource development projects often have limited lifespan
    • the need to look at other options for economic growth
  • For those regions in which resource development is not currently a reality, there is a dependence on the public sector
  • Participants described how Indigenous governments are not able to compete with public governments in terms of salary and benefits
    •  This leads to a concentration of skilled workers in Yellowknife
  • Participants called for:
    • further decentralization outside of the capital
    • greater investment in economic development in smaller communities, including in tourism

Traditional economy

  • Participants called for a balanced approach to developing modern and traditional economies
  • Traditional economies, including local craft production, are important as a potential avenue for economic diversification
    • This is particularly so for regions that are not seeing major resource development
    • These types of jobs can involve a range of transferrable skills, including marketing
  • Participants discussed the history and development of the Dene traditional economy, from its pre-fur trade roots to the present day, with a particular emphasis on the impact of colonization on Dene culture

Arctic science and Indigenous Knowledge

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Conservation

  • Participants discussed their desire to ensure that the Northern environment will still exist for future generations
    • This, it was emphasized, is about the long-term sustainability of resources for Indigenous people and all those who make use of the land and waters
  • Participants discussed how approaches to conservation will change as the land itself changes
  • Some participants called for increasing the number of protected areas in southern and northern Canada, in order to protect species such as migratory birds and caribou
  • Some participants advocated in favour of the proposed Thaidene Nëné National Park
  • Some participants were critical of the Government of the Northwest Territories' policies towards forest fires
    • According to these participants, the government does not always fight forest fires unless they are near populated areas
    • These fires can impact caribou migration routes, which consequently impacts Indigenous communities

Water issues

  • Participants emphasized the role of water in preserving a healthy environment
  • Participants discussed the impact of water levels on permafrost

Contaminated sites

  • Participants discussed continued problems related to contaminated sites, emphasizing that communities need to take a proactive approach to environmental monitoring in their region
  • The arsenic levels at and around Giant Mine in Yellowknife were cited as an example of an impact that is still being managed many years after the mine ceased operation
  • Participants discussed concerns regarding methane leaks from abandoned wells

Climate change

  • Participants emphasized the pro-active approach being taken by Indigenous communities to mitigate their climate change impacts
    • They noted that Indigenous communities know that they are only very small contributors to climate change, but they believe in their responsibility to look after the land
  • Participants noted the impact of climate change on harvesting and Indigenous people's relationship to the land, pointing to examples of snow mobiles falling through ice that had been previously safe to drive on, as well as other changes to the landscape

Jurisdictional challenges

  • Participants described conservation challenges related to jurisdiction
  • The decision of the United States to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will have negative impacts on the Porcupine caribou herd
    • The herd plays an important role in the culture and ecology of the Northwest Territories
  • Similarly, large-scale projects such as the Site C project and Bennett Dam in British Columbia and the oil sands in Alberta affect people living further North, but those people have no involvement in decision-making related to the projects

The Arctic in a global context

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