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Improving the lives of Northerners

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Leona Aglukkaq is the Conservative Canadian Member of Parliament for the riding of Nunavut and Minister for the Arctic. This article originally appeared in The Circle 01.15.

As Canada approaches the conclusion of its two-year Arctic Council Chairmanship, I’m proud to say we have worked to directly improve the lives of Northerners and foster environmentally responsible development throughout the Arctic.

Following my appointment as Minister for the Arctic Council in August 2012, I consulted with Northerners from across the Arctic and their message was clear: the well-being and prosperity of the people living in the North must be the top priority for the Council.

For this reason, Canada’s Chairmanship has focused Arctic Council work on the theme, “Development for the People of the North.”

There have been more than a few examples of the projects that we have developed over the course of our two year chairmanship, reflecting this overarching agenda. A key priority has been the establishment of the Arctic Economic Council (AEC), which held its inaugural meeting in September 2014. Many economic and social challenges including high costs of living, skilled labour shortages, and extreme weather are common across the Arctic. From my travels, it became clear to me that we often do not share information well between Arctic peoples. Often times when we face a challenge, someone somewhere else in the Arctic has already faced that same challenge and has a solution. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we, as a Council, should foster collaboration across the Arctic. The AEC will serve as a fundamental mechanism to facilitate Arctic-to-Arctic collaboration between business leaders by providing a forum to discuss common challenges, share best practices and look for business opportunities to develop and benefit the North.

The AEC will also serve as a link between business and government by enabling businesses to inform the work of the Arctic Council. Additionally – and this will be key to its success – Arctic Indigenous peoples have representation on the AEC, which ensures that those living in the North are active participants in decisions affecting their communities.

The AEC’s work is forging ahead, and it has now established working groups on responsible resource development, maritime transportation and stewardship in the Arctic.

Development has many aspects, including economic, social and environmental. These elements should all be considered as we work to achieve sustainable Arctic communities.

With this is mind, Canada is also working with its Arctic Council partners to promote mental wellness across the North. The goal of this project is to identify and share best practices to enable communities to improve support for mental wellness and resiliency of their residents. I am especially looking forward to the Mental Wellness Symposium taking place in Iqaluit, Nunavut in March which will focus on working with communities to advance efforts in mental wellness intervention.

Another key priority of Canada’s Chairmanship has been to incorporate traditional and local knowledge more effectively into the Council’s ongoing work. This knowledge has helped Indigenous peoples survive for millennia, and helps us understand changes in the region. The value of traditional knowledge is immense. By better incorporating it into decision making processes we will ultimately see better results for the Arctic and the people who live there.

The importance of traditional knowledge was recently highlighted in the search for Sir John Franklin’s ships from his failed 1845 voyage. One of his ships, HMS Erebus, was found just off the coast of my hometown of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut (see p. 32). For generations of oral history, Inuit have said the location was near King William Island, which is exactly where Erebus was found. This discovery emphasizes the strength and importance traditional knowledge plays in shaping not only our past, but also our present and our future. Successes such as these should make Inuit and all Arctic Indigenous peoples proud.

Over the course of Canada’s two-year Chairmanship, we have also advanced the Council’s work on other key issues, including climate change, biodiversity conservation, and shipping safety. These actions range from developing a framework for action to reduce black carbon and methane emissions in the Arctic to a new action plan to enhance oil pollution prevention.

A fundamental objective of our Chairmanship has been to strengthen the Arctic Council. This included enhancing the capacity of the six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations to contribute to the Council’s work. The Permanent Participants have a unique and fundamental role at the Council – they are at the table with the Arctic States to ensure that they are involved in decisions affecting their communities. As we move towards the end of our Chairmanship, we are working closely with our neighbour and the incoming Chair, the United States, to advance our shared priorities for the Arctic region.

I look forward to welcoming our Arctic Council partners to Iqaluit in April for the ninth Ministerial Meeting, where we will highlight our accomplishments, and chart a path for the next two years and beyond.

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