Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtable session: Whitehorse, December 13-14, 2017

This is a summary of the Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtables held in Whitehorse, Yukon on December 13 and 14, 2017.

On this page

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.


December 13, 2017 roundtable:

December 14, 2017 roundtable:

Overarching themes and messages from the roundtable

Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure

Indigenous governments and infrastructure

  • Indigenous development corporations should be involved in infrastructure projects from the beginning
    • Indigenous development corporations have the expertise needed to advance projects and avoid costly mistakes
  • Indigenous ownership of infrastructure projects is risky
    • If a large-scale project fails, it can bankrupt a small Indigenous community
  • First Nations with energy-generating capacity could sell energy to the territory

Planning and long-term investments

  • Governments should focus on "smart" infrastructure investments that have multiple economic and social benefits
  • Planning, community readiness and capacity development are needed to prepare communities for major infrastructure investments
  • Slow, consistent, long-term investments are needed, rather than one-time, megaproject investments
    • Large infrastructure investments can benefit communities, but once the project is completed, businesses close and jobs are lost
    • Infrastructure investments should include funding for future operations and maintenance
  • Infrastructure needs to be resilient to climate change
    • Thawing permafrost makes it challenging to maintain Yukon's road system

Infrastructure needs and potential projects

  • Infrastructure corridors, including transportation, energy and telecommunications, should be explored
  • Linking Yukon to the southern energy grid will help address growing energy needs in the territory
  • Internet service in the North should be improved
    • Internet access should be seen as a right
    • Internet service in Yukon is too slow and costly
    • There is insufficient competition amongst Internet providers, participants felt
    • High-speed internet will increase economic opportunities for Northerners
  • Greater redundancy in telecommunications and energy infrastructure is required
  • New and improved recycling, waste disposal and water infrastructure is needed
  • The Dempster Highway could be connected to a deep water port in Yukon
  • Infrastructure partnerships with Alaska should be considered
  • Additional resources are required to maintain smaller airstrips throughout Yukon

Strong Arctic people and communities

Reconciliation and the legacy of colonialism

  • Participants discussed the deep and ongoing impact of the residential school experience and the broader colonial legacy on Indigenous people
  • Colonialism has impacted many facets of Indigenous society, including:
    • language and culture
    • education
    • Indigenous knowledge
      • As part of the process of colonization, settlers attempted to eradicate Indigenous knowledge
      • Some elders are still reluctant to share Indigenous knowledge because of a fear of persecution
  • The Arctic Policy Framework needs to respect the spirit and intent of land claim agreements and further the goals of those agreements
    • It is time to move beyond focusing on the implementation of land claims, some participants said
      • Governments and communities need to think about leveraging the land claims for increased social and economic development
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action should be reflected throughout the Arctic Policy Framework
    • Implementing the Calls to Action will require collaboration by all levels of government
  • Reconciliation is the responsibility of every sector of society, including the private sector

Access to federal funding

  • Canada needs to move away from a "colonial approach" to federal funding for Indigenous governments and organizations to an approach grounded in the needs and realities of Indigenous communities, participants said
    • Funding should be multi-year and based on community needs, rather than bureaucratic processes such as the federal fiscal year
      • Consistent funding builds trust between the federal government and Indigenous governments and organizations
      • Federal funding should be ongoing, and not proposal or application-based
      • For Indigenous governments and organizations, the need to constantly apply for funding takes time away from working on important projects
    • Bureaucratic barriers to accessing and using federal funding should be broken down
      • Application procedures for federal funding should be streamlined
        • A "single window" or "northern portal" that brings together multiple funding opportunities in one place would be helpful
      • Federal reporting requirements are burdensome
    • Funding decisions should be holistic, and take into consideration social, environmental and economic impacts
    • Small organizations can effect meaningful change, and should have access to funding
    • Per-capita funding models places Northerners at a disadvantage
      • Smaller First Nations will never receive the support they need if funding is assessed on a per-capita basis

Capacity building

  • Capacity funding is key to empowering First Nations
    • As Indigenous governments assume more responsibilities, they require more resources and personnel
    • Indigenous governments do not always have the capacity to pursue federal funding opportunities
      • Significant investments in areas such as infrastructure should include a capacity-building component
      • Major investments should always be "capacity plus," one participant said
    • Indigenous governments are "flooded" with applications from researchers, mining corporations and others
      • More resources are needed to respond to increased interest in the North from the outside world

Education and child care

  • Education policy needs to be responsive to the needs of diverse communities
    • There is no one-size-fits-all model in education
  • Supporting education will lead to improvements in other areas, such as health
  • Introducing Indigenous languages and culture into the curriculum will empower First Nations students and communities
  • There is a generational shift occurring in education
    • As more parents complete high school, their children are more likely to complete high school as well
  • Too many students need to move from smaller communities to Whitehorse to finish high school
    • This is creating a situation similar to residential schooling, in which students are disconnected from their families and communities
    • Students should be able to complete high school in their home communities
  • Post-secondary education in the North was discussed:
    • Primary and secondary education should be improved before governments focus on post-secondary education in Canada's North, some participants said
    • Yukon should focus on improving the territory's college system before establishing a university, some participants said
    • Developing universities in Canada's North and Arctic would be a positive step, others felt
      •  Yukon College's transformation into Yukon University was cited as an example
    • Higher education should be oriented towards helping students find jobs when they graduate
  • Successful approaches to secondary education include:
    • one-on-one learning
    • land-based programming
    • support for language revitalization
    • training teachers to increase their understanding of colonialism and the impact of residential schools
  • Investing in early childhood education can improve social outcomes for years to come
    • The Government of Canada's Aboriginal Head Start program should continue


  • There is a need for Northern-based solutions in health care
    • People often have to be travel outside the territory for medical treatment
      • Developing a larger medical community in Yukon would create jobs and less dependence on southern workers
      • A northern medical qualification system could open up opportunities for Northerners and ensure that medical practitioners understand the northern context
      • Medical evacuation services are important in the North, but regulations can be burdensome and fail to reflect northern realities, one participant said
  • Poor mental health is a challenge in Northern communities
    • On-the-land activities provide a space for healing


  • There is a lack of housing, especially in Whitehorse
    • This is a challenge for:
      • economic growth
      • immigration to the territory
      • the expansion of higher education
  • Governments should:
    • replace aging housing stock
      • many older houses in Yukon contain high levels of radon
    • explore alternative forms of heating, such as geothermal energy

Food security

  • Food security is dependent on the conservation of key species, such as caribou
  • Climate change is impacting food security
  • Pollutants are contaminating country food
    • Indigenous knowledge can help inform our understanding of contaminants in the food chain
  • Innovative approaches to increasing food production in the North should be explored
    • International best practices in cold-climate agriculture should be examined and adopted
    • Local food production can create jobs, develop land-based skills, and foster a sense of community
  • A lack of redundancy in transportation infrastructure threatens food security in both large and smaller communities
  • The creation of genetically modified foods places strains on Canada's food systems, one participant said
  • "Factory fishing" and other forms of industrial food production are damaging to the environment
  • Community gardens and greenhouses are often identified as contributing to food security
    • More funding should be directed towards country food harvesting, rather than community gardens
    • Not all communities have hunter support programs

Community safety and crime

  • Alcohol and drug addiction are challenges to community safety
  • Participants discussed community-led public safety initiatives in Yukon, including the Kwanlin Dün community safety officer program

Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies

Social development and economic development

  • Strong people and communities support strong economies
  • Support for childcare services is needed to increase the participation of women in the labour market and higher education
    • Women play a major role in Northern small business development and public administration
  • Education is key to skills development and supporting participation the economy
    • On-the-job training has positive outcomes

Resource development and economic diversification

  • Yukoners need to "think big" about how to develop new, sustainable sectors of their economy
    • The sustainable development of copper could be a growth area for Yukon
      • Electric cars will drive new demand for copper
    • Cannabis could contribute to economic diversification
    • Development of renewable resources could provide new jobs and revenue for government
  • Participants expressed frustration regarding the lack of consultation and engagement regarding the Government of Canada's moratorium on future oil and gas licensing in the Arctic offshore
  • Oil and gas development in Yukon needs to take caribou protection into account
    • There are best practices that can mitigate impact on caribou, one participant said
  • International investment in Yukon's mining sector has been an important factor in the territory's social and economic development
    • Mining has also negatively impacted local communities and the environment
      • Faro mine was cited as an example
      • Mining companies should be liable for the remediation of contaminated sites after mines close
  • The North needs to move away from a "megaproject mentality" and focus on economic diversification, some participants said
    • Canada lags behind other Arctic states in terms of northern economic diversification
      • Internet access has played a role in enabling economic diversification in other Arctic states
    • The territory's cultural sector, including film and the arts, could be further developed
    • Higher education and knowledge creation have important economic benefits
    • Tourism is a growing industry in Yukon
  • Entrepreneurship should be supported
    • There is government support for small business, but people don't always know how to access it
      • It would be helpful if there was a "point person" who could help people connect to these resources
  • Economic partnerships with Alaska should be explored
    • There are challenges to increasing trade between Yukon and Alaska because both jurisdictions possess many of the same resources and commodities

Indigenous peoples and economic development

  • Chapter 22 of the Yukon First Nations Umbrella Final Agreement pertains to economic development
    • Governments should utilize this chapter and ensure that they are meeting their treaty obligations
  • Preferential procurement policies require periodic review to ensure that benefits are still flowing to Indigenous communities
  • Governments should look beyond conventional indicators of economic development such as the gross domestic product
    • Social  and cultural benefits and Indigenous values such as sharing and inclusivity should be considered
  • Unsettled land claims are barriers to economic development and investment
  • Partnerships between the private sector and governments, including First Nations governments, could help address social challenges while encouraging economic development
  • Industry, including mining, has a strong interest in developing partnerships with Indigenous peoples
    • Positive industry-Indigenous relationships are important in terms of human resources and capacity for firms operating in the North
    • In the near future, First Nations will move into positions of ownership in the mining industry, as has been the case in Australia
  • Partnerships with Alaskan Indigenous development corporations should be explored and leveraged
    • Alaskan development corporations often have access to more capital than Yukon First Nations development corporations

Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge

Northern leadership in research

  • Research, and the way it is conducted, has been a longstanding concern of Yukon First Nations
    • There is a section on research in the seminal Yukon First Nations document, Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow, published in 1973
  • The voices of Northerners should play a leading part in directing research priorities in the North
    • Northerners should have a greater role in federal agencies responsible for research funding
    • Tri-council funding should be available to northern communities and Indigenous organizations, not just universities and academics
  • Funds for northern research should be directed to the North, not to southern universities
  • Public opinion on the North and Arctic is often created in the south
    • A Northern think tank could help ensure that Northerners play a stronger role in shaping the views of policy-makers

Research and communities

  • Researchers should work more closely with communities to develop research priorities and identify capacity-building opportunities for youth
    • The priorities of researchers do not always align with community priorities and needs
    • One participant suggested the idea of a "research visa" for those who wish to conduct research in the North
      • Obtaining a "research visa" would be dependent on partnership with local communities
    • Research could assist communities in learning about best practices in other northern and arctic states
  • Communities experience "consultation fatigue" due to the number of researchers who wish to engage with the community
  • Northern communities often depend on partnerships with southern institutions to obtain research funding
    • Many communities would rather access that funding directly
  • Research projects should be subject to external evaluation to determine if they benefit communities

Indigenous knowledge

  • Indigenous knowledge is a distinct body of knowledge that should be given equal weight with Western science
    • Science and Indigenous knowledge are different ways of knowing and can be complementary
    • Indigenous knowledge is distinct from "local knowledge," a term which is often used incorrectly by governments to refer to Indigenous knowledge
  • Indigenous knowledge should meaningfully inform government decision-making
  • Indigenous knowledge enriches our understanding of a wide spectrum of topics, including health and social issues
  • Indigenous knowledge has an important spiritual and cultural significance
    • Indigenous knowledge acts as a "conduit between the past and the future," one participant said
      • Indigenous knowledge plays a role in perpetuating Indigenous cultures by passing on values, beliefs and practices
    • Indigenous knowledge is part of a worldview that is different from Western empiricism and instrumentalism
  • Appropriate protocols should be established to ensure that Indigenous knowledge holders are treated respectfully by researchers
    • Indigenous knowledge should be collected, curated and archived in an ethical manner
    • Indigenous knowledge holders are experts and should be treated as such, even if they do not hold formal qualifications
    • Indigenous knowledge holders should be appropriately compensated for their knowledge and skills
    • "Indigenous knowledge is on life support because there is no support to keep it going," one participant said

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Conservation and environmental protection

  • All people have a responsibility to protect the natural environment
  • Conservation measures should involve and benefit communities
  • Conservation and economic development are not oppositional
  • The concept of Indigenous protected areas has yet to be fully explored in Yukon
    • Many Yukoners are more comfortable with the co-management approach they have developed
  • Concerns regarding the park system: 
    • Restrictions on land usage, hunting and fishing
  • The impact of international fishing in Canada's Arctic waters was identified as a concern by participants

Climate change

  • Northerners are more concerned with climate-change adaptation than with mitigation
    • Northern communities are not significant contributors to climate change
  • Climate change is impacting infrastructure
  • Climate change will increase the need for emergency response services
    • Climate change creates an environment in which there are many unknowns
    • It is difficult to prepare for emergencies in this context
  • Climate change is altering wildlife migration patterns and local ecosystems
    • Northern biodiversity is threatened by invasive species
  • Major hydroelectric projects are a threat to the natural environment, one participant said
  • Climate change increases the risk of forest fires and natural disasters
    • Governments should be preparing for these types of climate-influenced emergencies


  • There should be a northern-specific approach to taxing carbon
  • Renewable and alternative forms of energy should be incentivized to help reduce reliance on diesel
    • "We need to start thinking green," one participant said
  • Governments should move away from major hydroelectric projects
    • These projects have significant environmental impacts


  • There is still a great deal of work to be done to remediate Northern contaminated sites
    • More baseline data is needed to evaluate the impact of contaminants and the progress of remediation
  • The Government of Canada's Northern Contaminants Program has developed a successful model to respond to this issue, participants said

The Arctic in a global context

Indigenous participation in international and security issues

  • There should be greater Indigenous participation in Canadian international delegations on issues such as climate change
  • Canadian diplomats should receive increased training to increase their awareness of northern and Indigenous realities, including the rights of land claim organizations
    • This would strengthen Canada's international advocacy on issues as sealing
  • Yukon First Nations want to be involved in discussions regarding national security in the north and Arctic

North-to-north relationships

  • North-to-north relations can be a source of mutually beneficial knowledge and best practices
    • Social challenges such as a high rate of suicide are experienced by Indigenous peoples and others throughout the circumpolar world
    • Participants discussed forging closer links between northern communities and "the Global South," particularly with respect to best practices in climate-change adaptation
    • Canada should support the international UArctic network of universities, colleges and research institutes
  • Cross-border mobility is an important concern for Yukon First Nations
    • Many Yukon First Nations have family in Alaska
    • Traditional trade routes are divided by the Canada-US border
    • Some participants said that the Canadian border system does not respect the provisions of the Jay Treaty
  • Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska negatively impacts the Porcupine Caribou herd
    • This impacts the Gwich'in in Canada
    • The Porcupine Caribou herd has important cultural significance for the Gwich'in
    • The herd contributes to Gwich'in food security
    • Canada needs to support the Gwich'in in their international advocacy against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve
  • Funding from the United States is important to maintaining those sections of the Alaska Highway that run through Yukon

Did you find what you were looking for?

What was wrong?

You will not receive a reply. Don't include personal information (telephone, email, SIN, financial, medical, or work details).
Maximum 300 characters

Thank you for your feedback

Date modified: