THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Tuesday, January 30, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 9 a.m. to study the new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning. Tansi.
I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal peoples either here in the room or listening via the web.
I would like to acknowledge for the sake of reconciliation that we are meeting on the traditional, unceded lands of the Algonquin peoples.
My name is Lillian Dyck. I chair this committee. It’s my honour and privilege to do so. I’m from Saskatchewan.
I will now invite my honourable colleagues to introduce themselves, starting on my left.
Senator Christmas: Dan Christmas from Nova Scotia.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate from Ontario.
Senator Boniface: Gwen Boniface, Ontario.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine from B.C.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from Alberta.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson, Nunavut.
The Chair: Thank you, senators.
Today we continue our study on what a new relationship between the government and First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples in Canada could look like. Today we are looking forward at what the principles of this new relationship should be.
We are very pleased to have before us today Natan Obed, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
Mr. Obed, before you begin, I think because this is our first session with regard to phase 2, I’m actually going to read into the record the six general questions that the committee has decided are the focal points for phase 2. We’ll take a moment to do that.
The first question: What does an ideal future look like for you and your descendants?
These questions are directed towards the witnesses that will appear before us or the witnesses that we will visit when we go out into communities.
Second question: What does a nation-to-nation relationship mean to you?
Third question: What do strong and vibrant indigenous nations look like to you? How do these nations interact with the Government of Canada? What are the principles that could guide the development of a new relationship?
Fourth question: What steps do indigenous peoples need to take to get to a new relationship?
Fifth question: How can the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments prepare the groundwork for a new relationship with indigenous peoples?
What can Canadians do to contribute to a new relationship with indigenous peoples?
Mr. Obed, you have the floor. You will open with your remarks, and then that will be followed by questions from the senators. Thank you.
Natan Obed, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami: Nakurmiik. Thank you, Madam Chair, and good morning, senators. It’s an honour to be a witness here in front of you on such an expansive but very important question, the future of the relationship.
First I want to start with the very foundation of the Inuit democracy and how it interacts with the Canadian democracy.
We all accept and just take for granted our understanding of the federal government, in general. Perhaps we don’t know exactly how legislation is passed or the roles that are played between the Senate and the House of Commons, but we understand that there is a Canadian democracy.
We also understand that there are provinces and territories and that there are political governments that then have the power to enact legislation and create programs and policies within their specific jurisdictions in each of the ten provinces and three territories.
But Canada is much less informed about indigenous governance and is much less respectful of indigenous governance in the way in which the federal and the provincial and territorial governments function.
Often, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is seen as an advocacy organization only, or another community-based grassroots group, rather than as the national component of the Inuit democracy. I want to describe our democracy to the group so that we are all on the same foundation.
We have land claim agreements in each of our four Inuit Nunangat jurisdictions. This isn’t new information to the Senate, but in the governance model we have four presidents, and they are democratically elected presidents of each of those four jurisdictions: Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region in the Northwest Territories. Those four presidents have the responsibility for implementing their land claims and for representing their Inuit constituents that are closely linked with the comprehensive land claim agreement provisions around eligibility for being a beneficiary.
At the national level, we have the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and on our board are the four presidents of those four land claim agreements. My mandate is delivered to me by those four presidents; and those four presidents, through our ITK process, elect the national leader. So I don’t come to this table with my own ideas about how Inuit should progress or what the positions of Canadian Inuit are. My positions come from my board of directors, which come from the people.
We also have a structure that mirrors the ITK structure for the international realm. So the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada also functions with its base of the four land claim agreement presidents directing the work of ICC Canada. This is important because it shows unity. We, as Inuit in Canada, can proudly say that we have an unbroken chain from our communities to the international level in how we represent ourselves.
On our board we also have the National Inuit Youth Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, which are permanent participants on our board. So we have women’s perspectives, youth perspectives and international perspectives within our domestic table of governance.
Often when we interact with the federal government, the federal government picks and chooses how we are going to fit within any interjurisdictional meeting or any federal-specific meeting. That can be as simple as the federal government deciding who the Inuk elder is who speaks on our behalf at the beginning of the meeting, or who else sits at the table with us. It often mixes up representational organizations with advocacy voices and with community grassroots groups.
Indigenous organizations, from the community level to the advocacy level to the national or representational level, all have specific roles to play in addressing issues and moving issues forward. However, this country and this system of governance has not yet respected Inuit to the level that is necessary to renew the relationship. Many departments in the federal government structure don’t have any understanding of how to interact with or respect Inuit representational organizations and, therefore, have an ad hoc or very uninformed way of engaging with us.
The results are predictable. We often spend way too much time on process, on trying to fix problems that the federal government or an intergovernmental table has thrust upon us, rather than moving forward with this shared understanding of the powers that we have and the respect that we have for one another.
It also then confuses outcomes. If you have a group like ITK, and the role that I play and the positions that I take that are on behalf of the four Inuit land claim presidents, that is a very different thing than if you take advice or consultation from an individual who is not speaking on anyone’s behalf.
Somehow we get all of this in the federal system. Somehow, when the Prime Minister speaks, we understand that not everyone agrees with the positions taken by the Prime Minister or the Liberal Party; however, people accept that it is a democracy, that it is the government of the day, and that you can’t say you are not a Canadian anymore or that the Prime Minister does not have the power or authority to enact this new policy or program just because you don’t agree with it.
However, somehow, within the indigenous realm, that is still an acceptable way of interacting with representatives of indigenous peoples. When we put forward positions that might not be the positions held by members of the House of Commons or the Senate or other Canadians, the first question we get is, “How do you have the authority to have that position?” Or, “I’ve heard from an Inuk from this other side that this isn’t true.”
Somehow, we are fractured immediately into this position of no power, where I, then, as the national Inuit leader, have to justify my position with an individual who is thinking in a different way or has a different position.
The beauty of democracy in this system is that we all can have our own ideas about how democracy functions, about what the priorities should be. However, we also have the structures in place that channel the views of many into the dominating positions of governments.
I pause there and focus on it because I think this is such a central tenet that has been purposely misunderstood in many cases in relation to indigenous peoples: the ability to understand that there is a federal governance structure, there are provincial and territorial structures, and there are indigenous structures, and that there is power within the indigenous governance in this country in a way that just has not been accepted.
It isn’t that Inuit are asking for the same powers as provinces or territories or the same powers as the federal government. It is that we are asking for the recognition and respect for the powers that we actually already have under the Constitution and through United Nations instruments such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are just the central tenets of the relationship that we, as ITK, have to fight for every single day against thousands of public servants and many different Canadian jurisdictions who would rather not be bothered with this new reality -- a reality that in many cases has been in legislation or protected by the Constitution since the 1970s or 1980s.
The relationship we have with provinces and territories is also very challenging, especially in intergovernmental fora. In a new relationship, we need to try to figure out how to make the best of the situations that are presented to us. Provinces and territories want to protect their interests. They have had, in the past, complete control over allocations directed towards Inuit within their jurisdictions. We need a new type of imagination around this. We need to create an Inuit Nunangat approach to the way in which the federal government interacts with provinces and territories when there’s any sort of funding expenditures that impact Inuit.
We don’t fall under the Indian Act. We have a different relationship with the federal government, which is why we call our relationship the Inuit-Crown relationship. When this country talks about a renewed nation-to-nation relationship, we also want the respect of saying the renewed Inuit-Crown relationship for Inuit.
The challenge has been that the monies that are put forward through housing, education or health care delivery are often controlled through interests that aren’t necessarily the Inuit interests within communities, and the Inuit participation is often two, three or four levels below the primary relationship between the funding agent — the federal government — and the party responsible for service delivery in the province or territory.
An Inuit Nunangat approach to funding allocations and policy development would change all of that. Inuit Nunangat is our homeland, and it is the sum total of the four land claim settlement regions stemming from the Northwest Territories to Nunavut to northern Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador. It is a space that encompasses approximately 35 per cent of Canada’s land mass, over 50 per cent of its coastline, approximately 3 million square kilometres. We already co-manage that space with the Government of Canada and with provinces and territories through land claim processes.
It is a homogeneous policy space. In the past or even today, when you think about the policy spaces that divide this country, they aren’t done by legislation. They are done by policy design. So why is it that there is an Atlantic region, usually? Well, it’s just the way in which service delivery has evolved and the federal government has imagined how to spend money in that pocket of the country.
Then there’s a Quebec region, Ontario, and usually there’s a western region. Usually Inuit regions are split up between three different jurisdictional regions, so the northern region, which usually encompasses the territories, the Quebec region and the Atlantic region, which means that for Inuit the application of federal policies or federal investments for the betterment of our people is applied in wildly different ways, depending upon the jurisdiction that receives the funding and the mandate that they have.
An Inuit Nunangat approach would imagine that the federal government works with Inuit and with provinces and territories that are implicated in a partnership way to ensure that our self-determination is upheld within the decisions that the federal government makes and the way in which programs, policies and services flow from the federal structures to provinces and territories and to Inuit regions.
In our homeland, we don’t have the own-source revenue that most other jurisdictions have, so the federal government already funds a large percentage of all things that happen in our region. Even though education might be a provincial or territorial responsibility, I can assure you that the federal government is paying for most of the education through federal transfers to Inuit Nunangat.
The same goes for housing and health care and many of the other social issues that we are here talking about and that we have talked about for some time as being in crisis and in need of solutions.
It brings me to the next point on legislation, programs and policies. I’ve really appreciated the depth that the Senate took in focusing on Inuit Nunangat housing and appreciate the report that was released this past March. I think that it is this type of rigour and interest that is going to change the way that Inuit Nunangat is seen by Canada and also the way in which programs, services and funding allocations flow to our regions.
An independent Senate is a very new concept in relation to legislative reform and what can happen through the regulations and whatever falls under through the programming and financial commitments to implement that legislation. So especially in relation to our language, Inuktuk, I see a great opportunity for the Senate to work on behalf of indigenous languages to ensure that the legislation is strong enough that it goes beyond just the basic symbolic recognition of the importance of indigenous languages in this country and gets to the point of systematically allowing for the revitalization, promotion and use of Inuktuk in our homeland and the rights that we have to use that for service delivery such as health care or education.
The relationship that Inuit have with Canadians is also changing rapidly. It’s amazing how much more Canadians know about Inuit today than even when I started my career in 2002 at ITK. I can remember going into rooms where virtually no one understood anything about Inuit beyond the fact that there were Inuit in Canada. Sometimes we still feel that way in certain rooms, but in most rooms we enter today there is an understanding and a willingness to understand more.
This distinction-based approach to the way in which we talk about indigenous peoples in this country is essential for this new relationship to work. There is no one homogeneous indigenous person; there is no one spiritual belief of all indigenous peoples; there is no one way that indigenous peoples present to the world. That’s an exciting thing for me, that we don’t have to have that level of homogeneity in order to get our points across, that Canadians can accept that there are indigenous peoples in this country and there are a multitude of different ways in which indigenous peoples interact with the Crown but then also how we express ourselves.
Our histories, even within Inuit Nunangat, are varied. The colonial relationships that we’ve had with those who settled our regions are so vastly different, but they are all parts of us now. Being able to tell our stories and to have Canadians understand the nuance is a relatively new thing. So we don’t have to hide behind the stereotypes and accept that that’s all that Canada wants from us. We can get into our own strange histories that lead us to this moment in time where we are proud Inuit and we look forward to a new relationship with Canada and a new relationship with government on our terms and being proud of all of the things that make us into who we are.
We have a lot to contribute: the co-management structures that we already have in place; the strategic space that we occupy that is our homeland, whether it be in relation to sovereignty or changing climate; the expansion of the use of the Northwest Passage; or the natural resources that are in our homelands that will hopefully be a benefit not only to Canadians but also to Inuit in our political and social development in years to come.
I look forward to the conversation. Thank you for the chance to provide these opening remarks.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Obed. That was an excellent overview. We’ll now open the floor to questions.
Senator Tannas: Thank you for being here today. I really did appreciate the overview, as you presented it, of the role of the Inuit governance structure.
I would like to put myself on second round, but I want to get one question out.
You spoke about the responsibility, essentially, at this point being land claim implementation. What’s in that? What specifically is it that ITK does? If I’m an Inuit citizen, how do I interact with ITK, if you could put some clarity toward that? I think you said it’s not at all an advocacy group. This is a governance structure. Could you tell us specifically what activities of governance I, as a citizen, would see?
Mr. Obed: Over time, ITK’s been different things. In the 1970s, when it was first formed, it was called the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, and now it’s Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. The first iteration talked about how Inuit will be united. It was a forward-thinking idea, and now after the settlement, the name was changed to mean Inuit are united in Canada. It was a very slight change, but very important to us because we all had settled land claims.
In the 1970s and 1980s, ITC was the lead on the constitutional talks and reforms. It helped with the land use and occupancy studies, especially for Nunavut, and it did general advocacy in that time.
In this new realm of settled land claims, we have some very specific roles that we play. Our first role is representation, to be the representative body at the national level for the Government of Canada to interface with when it comes to fulfilling consultation responsibilities through anything in relation to section 35 of the Constitution. Any of the national business on the political level where the federal government is wishing to create a national conversation, ITK represents Inuit within those fora.
The Inuit-Crown declaration that was signed last year in Iqaluit in February was between myself and Prime Minister Trudeau based on the mandate or the organizational structure that we have in place.
The four regional presidents are there at the meeting and can have direct relationships with federal ministers and the Prime Minister, but when it comes to just national conversations, ITK represents all Inuit within that space.
We also have a number of different functions that support that basic ability to represent. We have a research function so that we know specific details about the socio-economic status of our people and also to be able to be self-determining within the research realm, to represent Inuit at tables that are focused on research about us.
In an evidence-based democracy, the numbers and the summary data about Inuit play a massive role in the way funding allocations are structured and the priorities that governments set and also just the general attitudes that Canadians have about Inuit and the health of our population or the socio-economic status of our population.
Research is subjective, and we need an essential participatory role in research to be able to tell our story to the world.
We also provide policy guidance, and we have a number of different policy functions within ITK. We have a number of technical subcommittees within our organization that have membership from all Inuit regions on specific topic areas, such as public health or research or environment or wildlife. We draw technical experts from our Inuit representational organizations from our four regions and bring them together for conversations around the policy direction that we want to take as an organization.
We often, on the technical level, interact with departments like Health Canada or Environment and Climate Change Canada or what was INAC or Indigenous Services Canada. We have the national responsibility to bring forward positions that come from our regions on the technical level and the policy level to the federal government so that the government can make better decisions in relation to policy, legislation and programs.
We also do public outreach and education. A large function of ITK is telling Canadians about Inuit, providing a better understanding of Inuit so that we can pave the way for a better country and a more informed country and a more respectful country in relation to Inuit as indigenous peoples and the rights that we have.
I think there is just a willingness now at this time to understand Inuit in a more complete way, so we unlock the doors for that understanding, whether it’s through presentations and speeches or trying to mobilize and support things such as National Indigenous Peoples Day. We provide some of that basic framework so that Inuit can tell their story not just at the political level but at the human level.
And then the last point is we serve as a place to unify Inuit. In the past there was no difference, really, between Inuit in a socio-political sense. There were different Inuit who lived in different places, but there were no Nunavut Inuit and Northwest Territories Inuit. There were just Inuit. We had different dialects of our language that were spoken and different groups of people who lived and just small differences in the ways in which we hunted or the game that we had available or the environment that we lived in.
That has all changed now, and the focus is so much on the political jurisdictions in which we reside and the land claim agreements that we are beneficiaries of that sometimes we get away from the basic sense that we are all Inuit in this country and we have common goals and common language. ITK brings us back and closer to that sense of unity, and it’s something that we focus on every day through our communications, through the way in which we message. Just this morning I was on a radio show in Nunavut talking about the children in care meeting last week. I think it is essential for Inuit in Nunavut to know that children in care is an issue for all Inuit regions in different ways.
So that’s the last point in relation to what we do. Those are the five main focuses of ITK in our mandate.
Senator Tannas: So ITK does not deliver any services?
Mr. Obed: No.
Senator Tannas: And has no jurisdiction over those who deliver services other than a moral kind of connective suasion. Is that fair to say?
Mr. Obed: Yes.
Senator Tannas: Do you see that as a major problem? That the people you are representing are looking to you for representation on mundane things that governments do to deliver services to people, and you actually don’t have your hands on the levers to deliver that? Who does? Is this part of the problem?
Mr. Obed: The power that ITK has is to be here in this room and to speak as one voice. We don’t have jurisdiction over funding allocations or delivery models. We have the ability to advise.
In some cases now there are federal departments that are willing to partner with us in ways that they have not in the past. But our partnership is usually in unlocking opportunities for our four land claim regions. Because of the very specific differences in the jurisdictions, one size won’t fit all.
I’ll give an example for suicide prevention funding. Health Canada, through the leadership of Minister Philpott, announced in 2016 that $8 million was going to be put toward the implementation of our national Inuit suicide prevention strategy on the day of its release. That was exceptionally good news story. It was the first time the federal government had ever funded an Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami strategy. We got $2 million in the first year. We are in a $3 million phase this year. Next fiscal it will be $4 million.
We then worked with our National Inuit Committee on Health to decide how that money would be spent. Each of the four Inuit regions is taking components of that money and spending money on specific ways to implement the national strategy within their specific jurisdiction, and then we take some of that money and do things that are appropriate at the national level, such as communications or overseeing the development of specific programs that can be delivered, such as mental health first aid for Inuit.
So we don’t get into service delivery at a community level, like a province or territory would, or even like a First Nations reserve might. But we can work with service delivery agents in partnership and unlock opportunities based on the same common principles that are agreed upon by our board of directors.
We aren’t looking to become service delivery agents for Inuit in Inuit Nunangat; we are looking for the structures to work.
Senator Tannas: Thank you.
Senator Patterson: Thank you for the excellent presentation, sir. You’re a very eloquent spokesperson for the Inuit.
I’d like to focus on my region of Nunavut with these questions. Firstly, you mentioned Inuit not having their own-source revenues that other provinces have and so the larger role of the federal government in providing support for Inuit. It’s interesting to me that Inuit in Nunavut do have significant ownership of land and a substantial share of resource revenues through their land claim agreement, and I’m talking about the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, although I think that’s broadly true of the Inuit in other regions of Canada. In fact, I just learned that NTI took in about $50 million in royalties last year from resource revenues, though there are no rights on the offshore and no revenues, potentially, from offshore developments. But then the Government of Nunavut, which represents 85 per cent of Inuit, as you well know — roughly 85 per cent — has no ownership of land and gets no share of revenues from development of mineral resources in Nunavut. Yet, it bears the social costs, including the impacts of development. Neither does the Government of Nunavut have a role in the offshore or in revenues from the offshore.
So my question is, as we look forward to a new relationship, how important do you think it is that the Government of Nunavut should take over responsibility for managing lands and resources onshore and in the offshore to get its own sources of revenue, like provinces have, to provide programs for its largely Inuit population? In your opinion, is what we call “devolution” an important initiative for Nunavut and for the Inuit of Nunavut?
Mr. Obed: Devolution has been a priority for Nunavut Tunngavik for over a decade now. It also has been a priority of the Government of Nunavut as well. I do wish all parties in devolution well in getting a deal done. It seems as though, in the Northwest Territories, there has been more progress made, and a devolution deal, especially in relation to the prospects of a public government, is an imperative step forward in serving their population.
I would like to take this opportunity to explain some of these conversations that happen in relation to revenues in a bit more of a holistic way. So our land claim agreements are just that. They are agreements mostly focused in relation to land and all things in relation to certainty of the Crown and certainty of all parties. Our provisions and agreements often have responsibilities, not just for the federal government but also for, in our case, Inuit and then the jurisdiction in which the settlement area resides. But, if you think about the money that has been received, not only the initial payments for settlement but then also the provisions in relation to percentages of resource royalties or, in certain agreements, the ownership of subsurface and mineral lands, they are basically a one-time deal for a population, for society. These are point-in-time payments for what is something that is for all future generations. In kind of an artistic term, I guess it would be, this is “forever” money. It is not just the way in which a federal government might provide a transfer payment for a fiscal year for the Government of Nunavut. The money that flows to Inuit in relation to natural resource extraction or other economic development is often seen as going into the collective that has to be used for the good of Inuit forever because you can’t do that same mine twice. So the money that we receive is often put into trust. It often then trickles back out in different ways for social programming or other things, but it wasn’t intended for the same purpose that natural resource extraction usually is used for in the South, which is a direct, positive impact on the economy and on social programming immediately, a call and response. Also, we don’t have the same level of jobs that are created in a fly-in, fly-out natural resource economy in the way that happens in the South as well.
I’m not saying that this was your intent, Senator Patterson; I’m just using this platform. I think there is a general misunderstanding about the resources the Inuit have and the obligations that we have to run public governments and services within jurisdictions that no one else in this country has the obligation to do. So, if a private corporation received the same amount of resources, there is no expectation that that private corporation is then going to run the health care system or the education system in the jurisdiction in which they make their money. Somehow, with Inuit money, all of a sudden everything is back on the table, and there is this expectation that we have to come to the aid of chronically underfunded social or physical infrastructure to make our communities run.
In the future, I think there will be a more nuanced debate within Inuit land claim regions about how resources are spent and, in the structure of self-government, what new responsibilities Inuit land claim organizations might want to take on in spite of a lack of equity from provinces, territories or the federal government. But, for today, I just wanted to say that this idea of Inuit having money but not spending it on the issues that are directly affecting their population is something that I hear a lot, and it’s something that is more nuanced than it might appear on the surface.
Senator Patterson: If I may, I’d like to ask another question, Madam Chair.
The matter about indigenous governance not being respected was, I think, a major theme of your remarks. I’d like to discuss that with reference to Nunavut and two particular current issues, but also to mention that, as you well know, consultation is a huge issue in the Supreme Court, in the jurisprudence of Canada and in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
There are two big issues now that are impacting Nunavut. One is what many people would call — I think they do call — transformative social change in Canada with reference to the legalization of marijuana. You’re, I know, well aware that, at the annual general meeting of the land claims organization in Nunavut, there was a resolution that loudly complained that NTI had not been consulted on this major social policy as required under their land claim agreement in very specific terms.
I asked the Government Representative in the Senate about this problem during Question Period. I asked an open-ended question: What consultation took place with Inuit on this issue? And I referenced the obligation under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. I was told the federal government had met with ITK, and the suggestion was that therefore that was the consultation and that had been done.
I’d like you to comment on that. Maybe that’s an example of a misunderstanding of Inuit governance, even from the federal government at the highest levels.
The other issue is this, and I think you were there with President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau when there was an announcement about an Arctic policy framework and an oil and gas moratorium in the Canadian and U.S. Arctic. That was about year ago December. Whatever one thinks about the Arctic oil and gas moratorium — and I know there are some people, many people perhaps, who think this was a good decision — I’d like to ask you about the role of Inuit in being consulted on that particular issue, and generally on the management of the offshore. Because, of course, Inuit are a marine people whose communities are coastal, who have a marine economy and whose efforts to establish sovereignty for Canada in the Arctic are recognized in land claims agreements. I’m wondering about those two issues and whether you have comments on those, please.
Mr. Obed: Thank you. In relation to the legalization of cannabis, this is a highly contentious issue in our communities and one we have talked about at our Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami board of directors and one that our staff have engaged with the federal government on. That is one plank in an overarching approach that is necessary when consulting with Inuit in this country. It in no way excuses the Government of Canada from consulting with Inuit in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, or urban Inuit. There are ways in which to satisfy those consultation requirements, and in each jurisdiction there would be different ways to go about doing that.
So I think it is misinformed to say that a conversation or two with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is a substitute for broad consultation on such a huge issue. Imagine if we did that for the indigenous languages legislation, if there were just a couple of conversations with ITK and then you'd say, “We consulted with Inuit.” It would not be acceptable, and everyone would know that. But with a larger public policy issue that isn’t specifically Inuit focused, somehow you can get away with cutting corners in that way.
There is a clear process, one we are happy to describe and work through with those who need to focus on the consultation within departments on major pieces of legislation, and it’s unfortunate that that is the interpretation of the department on this particular subject.
In relation to the moratorium that you referenced, that came closely on the heels of a very progressive joint statement between Canada and the United States in relation to the Arctic. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami worked closely with the Government of Canada on the text that became final in relation to the proposed work that might happen between the U.S. and Canada in the area of the Arctic.
Unfortunately, there will always be opportunities that are almost too good to pass up that shortcut the relationship or that run counter to the political statements or legal obligations of a government. I think that sometimes we have to check the very real, human desire to get things done quickly, which looks like a really great thing, at the consequence of respect for your partners and for the stated ambitions you have on the larger scale.
Our Inuit Nunangat regions were not happy with the unilateral announcement by the federal government in relation to the moratorium, and we have also clearly talked about and described a better way to work together before decisions like that are made.
The Chair: Before we proceed to Senator Raine and then Senator Doyle, I would like to follow up with the line of thinking that Senator Patterson has entertained, and that is with regard to consultation.
Mr. Obed, you spoke about this in your opening remarks as well, talking about how the federal government really doesn’t understand how the Inuit government is set up, and that they pick and choose who they will consult with on different issues and sometimes pick the wrong person.
What would you recommend be done in order for the federal government to interact more appropriately and respectfully with Inuit government?
Mr. Obed: I think it first starts with protocols. If there is anything that the federal government is fixated on, it’s protocols and how it treats those whom it respects. Often with indigenous politicians and representatives of indigenous peoples, there is no understanding or respect given within the protocols of any event or standing committees or even access to the federal Parliamentary Precinct.
I think we can do some very easy things in terms of the evolution of protocols and respect that can be given that is government-wide and systematic, rather than relying on the individual knowledge of the person who is in charge of particular protocols at any given time and on whether or not they know there is a difference between First Nations, Inuit and Metis, or whether they understand the national and regional political structure in order to give it the respect that it deserves. On the political side, I think there is a clear protocol gap that can be quite easily solved.
In terms of the way in which we are consulted and the way in which Inuit voices are brought to the table, there are only four land claim regions. Our governance model is not so complex that it couldn’t be readily understood if there is the expectation that the federal government will understand it. If you tie incentives and performance measurements to the respect and incorporation of Inuit governance and to the way in which work and program review happens and the way in which legislation review or new legislation flows through the federal system, then you will see results.
A large part of this challenge is that every new public servant we interact with has their own imagination about where we fit and the limitations of the relationship they will have with us. There is not only systematic reform within protocols but also in terms of what drives this problem to continue, which is the lack of incentive and interest for the public service to understand the nuance of these issues and then to put it into practice after it’s been told.
There are a host of progressive ministers of this government that want to do better but don’t have the time to micromanage seven or eight levels down in their bureaucracy to ensure that what they want for their bureaucracy actually is then what happens.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much for your presentation. Even though in the Senate we do have an opportunity to learn more than most Canadians about how things are governed, there is so much to learn.
I wonder if you could take a few minutes to go back to your board makeup with the four presidents, and then you have the youth council representation, an international person and representation from women’s groups. How are those people chosen? How do they do their role? Because that’s a pretty big thing if you have one youth council representative, for instance, interacting with four different regions. How does that work?
Mr. Obed: In our board structure, the four land claim presidents are the voting members, so we only have decisions that are made from those who represent the sum total of our Inuit population.
The three others who are permanent participants on our board are different in that they do not get their mandate from a part of or the entirety of the Inuit population. So the National Inuit Youth Council is a body that has representation from all Inuit regions, and their youth coordinators make up the youth council and they select a president every two years.
Maatalii Okalik, the previous president, is somebody that almost everyone in the federal sphere now knows. She is an amazing young woman. Now Ruth Kaviok is the new NIYC president as of last August. She’s actually here in Ottawa going to school at Nunavut Sivuniksavut. She works with her National Inuit Youth Council through an ITK-administered process.
We have an internal person that convenes the National Inuit Youth Council. We have the funding that allows for those youth council members to get together and to create priority areas. Then Ruth brings those positions forward to ITK conversations through the ITK board as President of NIYC.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada also has a different board structure that is completely external to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. They have seats on all of our technical subcommittees. Rebecca Kudloo is their president, and she is another permanent participant on our board. They do run service delivery. They do run programs. They also advocate for Inuit women. They’ve been strong leaders in issues such as the reduction of violence against women, the MMIWG file and then also for empowerment and different women-specific issues. She brings her voice from her board into our conversation.
And then the Inuit Circumpolar Council president, which is right now Nancy Karetak-Lindell. I think many of you in this room would know her from her long-time service in the House of Commons. The ICC is the vice-president of ITK, and I serve as the vice-president of ICC Canada. Again, they bring the international component into the domestic conversation that we have at our board.
So the three of them serve to provide particular perspectives into the conversation but are not specific decision makers in our governance model.
Senator Raine: This is a follow up. I understand how it’s working now on your board. In terms of relating to the federal government or to your geographic provincial jurisdictions, do they have a role to play on behalf of ITK, or does ITK do all the jurisdictional federal and provincial meetings and counselling and consulting?
Mr. Obed: Depending on the topic area, we will bring each of those jurisdictions into the conversations that we have, but ITK plays that central role at the table. So we don’t have scenarios where we give up our voice, through the ITK process, to our permanent participants, the same way that we don’t allow for any one of our Inuit regions to take over a national specific conversation as well.
There are some circumstances where a regional issue might be an issue that then becomes a national issue, but usually what happens is a region, like Nunatsiavut did last year in relation to Muskrat Falls, they came to the ITK board and asked that a very specific position be taken by the ITK in relation to their plight. The other three Inuit regions agreed for ITK to write a letter to the Prime Minister. But those are exceptional circumstances. Usually the work of ITK is based on common interests, and our priorities are only the priorities of the four regions, not specifically one or another.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much.
Senator Doyle: Thank you for your presentation. Very interesting.
I wanted to follow up a little bit on your comments about mental health and the federal government’s funding for mental health. You probably noticed in our local newspaper back home that it talked about the suicide rate in Nunavut, saying that it’s down a little bit.
Do you agree? Is the federal government making any great progress in that area? Is the government using the funding wisely, in your opinion, in those areas for that purpose?
Mr. Obed: I think mental health funding is insufficient and we need to do more to ensure that there is an adequate level of mental health funding for the suite of services that are necessary to provide the best possible care for our people who are in need.
The fact that we have only one addiction treatment centre that has bed space in Inuit Nunangat is shocking in 2018 considering the amount of historical and intergenerational trauma that our people have and also the number of people that are using in-patient care facilities in the South and have to travel thousands of kilometres just for the ability to go to a treatment centre.
Kuujjuaq in Nunavik is the only place where there is an in-patient care facility that’s currently operating in Inuit Nunangat. The government in Nunavut has tried, many different times, to create an in-patient care facility. They have done certain pilot projects. They actually had an in-patient care facility in the 1990s, but they closed it. That was in Iqaluit.
The fact that the federal government funds over 70 in-patient care facilities in the South for First Nations through the NNADAP program but that that funding isn’t providing for the same type of in-patient care facilities to happen in Inuit Nunangat is a basic challenge.
The other challenge is going to be in relation to the way that we treat each other when it comes to the type of care that can be received. The systems between Inuit counselling and clinical counselling don’t intertwine, so there isn’t an overarching strategy that brings the care that happens from the community level, the regional level or the national level together for the client.
Until we have a larger respect for the Inuit and community components within mental health and mental health service delivery, I don’t think we’re going to get the results that we all want to see in relation to Inuit.
A person might need clinical care or they might want care from an Inuit-specific healing perspective, and it isn’t one or the other, often. Often both of those types of care are necessary, and sometimes even beyond that, there is specific care that needs to happen in southern centres that are just focused on that one individual.
So in a time when we’re struggling with high suicide rates, we’re struggling with basic health service capacity in our regions. We know that there are health care providers and system administrators that are doing their best with the resources that they have and trying to stretch every dollar and trying to see as many clients as possible, but I also know that people are still falling through those cracks. Often it has strange and unintended consequences, such as in a number of our jurisdictions, the Mental Health Act is often used as a stop-gap measure for those who are at risk of harming themselves. Without the ability to care for a person’s mental health, a person ends up spending a certain amount of time in a jail cell in a community and then being released without any sort of services. That is just the function of our mental health system.
I think we all can agree that that isn’t the way to make somebody better. That isn’t the intervention that that person is looking for when they are in a personal crisis or a time of need.
We need to do a better job and create a better system, and it isn’t to put down or admonish anyone who is running the system to date because I think people are doing as best they can with the resources that they have.
Senator Doyle: Is there adequate follow up between the federal level and your local government in reporting on the delivery of these services to people?
Mr. Obed: I think there are structures in place in relation to accountability, and there are always evaluation measures on any of the funds that are spent. I think it’s just the expectation isn’t there. The expectation that our population is served to the end of positive mental health for the majority of our people is not necessarily what the system is trying to achieve. It is trying to achieve the maximum efficiency of the use of the funds that are given to it.
It is the same thing with tuberculosis. Our rate of tuberculosis is over 270 times the rate of all other Canadians who are born in Canada. The problem is especially difficult in Nunavik, parts of Nunavut and parts of Nunatsiavut. We understand how to eradicate tuberculosis. It’s a public health disease, and we have the tools to be able to treat it and the tools within public health to be able to find ways to stop tuberculosis, but what we have in our systems are TB management systems, so when TB flares up we have investments of time and energy and resources with teams that know how to do contract tracing and how to identify those with active TB. That’s a very different thing than TB elimination.
So the purpose of the funding for these types of health issues in Inuit Nunangat often is not to do a best practice or to do something concrete; it is just to manage the current gap in the outcome so that it doesn’t get any worse than it already is, not to solve it once and for all.
Senator Boniface: Thank you very much for your presentation and your answers to the questions. It’s been very interesting, and I appreciate it.
I want to zero in on two aspects: one, your reference to a distinction-based approach, which I think is somewhat unique — I’d like to hear more about it — and the second piece, when you talked about needing more recognition for indigenous but particularly for the Inuit.
I’m wondering how our new relationship study might help you achieve some of that deserved recognition so that we can get some sense of practical steps we can take to help in that realization.
Mr. Obed: A distinctions-based approach has its roots in the way in which the Canadian government has treated indigenous peoples since the inception of this country, since Confederation, and it has been in a very ad hoc way and in a way that suits the particular need at the particular time.
Inuit fell outside of federal interest, in many regards, until World War II and just after World War II. Prior to World War II, there were certain communities that had RCMP interests. A scattering of different services were delivered, perhaps in some of our larger locations, but they were largely in the hands of the Hudson’s Bay Company or in the hands of missionaries, of church interests.
There are Supreme Court rulings in relation to our status: Are Inuit actually Indians under certain legislation or under the Constitution? Those questions have been asked and partially answered over time. The repatriation of the Constitution allowed for us to specifically have our name within the Constitution, and I will always thank my political predecessors, who are also my political colleagues in many cases, for that incredibly difficult work in the 1980s.
However, what has happened in relation to federal programming and policy development, and often in legislative structures, is that it is just a free-for-all when it comes to Aboriginal and now indigenous components of the work. Often, terms and conditions in programs or policies are silent on the differences, the very clear differences, between different types of indigenous peoples in this country.
I’ve said this quite a bit, but we didn’t create this strange structure of our relationship with the provinces or territories or the federal government. These relationships were created by tables like this, over the course of 150-odd years of trying to figure out what was best at a given time.
A distinctions-based approach allows for decisions to be made in a way that respects the existing agreements that are intact, which everyone is supposed to be able to understand and play within. So the terms and conditions of programs should not exclude a specific group of indigenous peoples unintentionally, which has been the case for a long, long time.
The way that the budget is created and the way that indigenous peoples are included within lines of the federal budget still has a reference to this misnomer that when you say “indigenous,” you mean all indigenous people. The $8 billion that was announced in Budget 2016 for indigenous peoples, the championing of that investment as “better than Kelowna,” only had within it about $150 million specifically allocated for Inuit, and the large majority of that funding went to other indigenous peoples. If I were to categorize it, it would be largely First Nations’ interests. That isn’t to say that those funds aren’t necessary for First Nations or that we demand that we receive money that would have otherwise gone to very good projects for other indigenous peoples in this country. It is just to say that when the Canadian government makes an investment, and when the Canadian government creates programs, policies or legislation, it should be aware of its own structure and governance and the rules that govern service delivery and jurisdiction, and then the interaction with the indigenous population, when it does that work.
I think the quickest way to better results is to be informed of the political realities, and then the practical eligibility realities, of the interventions you are trying to create. Too often in the past we have been forced to fit within very strange circumstances that don’t necessarily align with our priorities, and then exclude certain parts of our populations, just as a matter of course.
You have certain programs in this country that some of our Inuit regions are eligible for but others aren’t, and is there any reason for it? No. That’s just the way it was created. We need to get beyond the acceptance that that’s okay, and a distinctions-based approach leads us down the path towards a more informed way of working with indigenous peoples in this country.
In relation to recognition in political venues or in the way in which we understand the work we are doing, it again goes back to the fundamental principles of the basis of our relationship. We’ve invested entire generations of our best minds into the creation and implementation of land claim agreements. We are all in on this.
The make or break of our society is often linked to the implementation of our land claim agreements because we came to the table despite all that had happened to us, despite residential schools and forced relocations and a whole host of other things, and said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s create this new relationship. Let’s figure out how we can work together and you can respect us and we will respect you.”
Too often we get this sense that that spirit and the intent we had with our land claims aren't being followed through, and that the very basic level of compliance is the highest watermark that the federal government strives for, rather than the principle and intent of the entire projects in and of themselves.
We’re still trying to build a complete Canada, and these land claim agreements are essential documents in trying to chart us towards that path and ones we’ve already signed on together. The beauty of it in my messaging now, in 2018, is that we’ve already said that we’ll do these things. We don’t need to fight through partisan conversations and a whole host of different legislative structures to do some really amazing things in relation to Inuit Nunangat. We just have to figure out how to make the mechanisms that we’ve created work best for the outcomes that we all want to see.
Senator Pate: Thank you very much, Mr. Obed, for your incredibly articulate testimony, your wealth of experience and the years that you have been doing this work.
You’ve touched on a number of areas that I’d like to encourage you to expand a bit more upon. In particular, you talked about some of the work you’ve done on — and it was in the media last week — the agreements around child welfare issues and the concerns around the future for Inuit youth in particular. I thought that your quote was particularly apt — and I’d like you to feel free to expand upon it — when you talked about the tragedy of Inuit children being taken into care in a culture that values its children highly. You saw it as a departure from who we want to be versus who we are. Also, I noticed that your organization spoke out on the issues around land protectors — and you mentioned it earlier as well — when land protectors were being jailed in the North. You’ve also spoken about the inadequacy of treatment, in particular that there are inadequate in-patient types of programming and that sort of thing. You didn’t speak directly to this, but I suspect you have a fair bit of knowledge about it as well. Often, the default that is being used when there are inadequate resources for health care, addiction care, mental health, even violence against women is the jails that have been constructed. On my most recent visit to Iqaluit, I was struck by how many new prison cells there were, but there were no new shelter beds. There were no new treatment beds. You mentioned the treatment centre actually closing there.
With that very long preamble — thank you, Madam Chair and the committee, for your indulgence — I would be interested in how you would see those policy decisions being made. What are some of the principles you think could guide that new relationship, and how can the federal, provincial and territorial and municipal governments help to prepare that groundwork in a way that includes decolonizing child welfare, mental health, addiction and treatment, as well as as the criminal justice system? A big question, but I suspect you are well up to the challenge of answering.
Mr. Obed: A lot of what you raised has its roots in social inequity, and the work that our organization and many other Inuit organizations have done in relation to suicide prevention speaks to the reality that we have as being a predictable outcome of a number of different risk factors that are present in our communities that not only play into a higher risk of suicide, suicide ideation, but also a number of other indicators within socio-economic status — low educational attainment, undiagnosed mental health issues, poverty, food insecurity. The challenge that we have as a society is trying to do the best we can with the resources we have and trying to get back to a place where we all want to be, which is a healthy society that cares for its children, that brings its children up in an environment of strength and that allows for our population to take advantage of any opportunity afforded to any citizen of this country, while being Inuk, while speaking our language, while not having to sacrifice those things to have the same level of ambition and opportunity that all other Canadians have.
Those are very aspirational words; those are things that ground us in the work that we do. We know the challenges in front of us.
Child welfare is another tremendous risk factor for a lot of our people because of the way the child welfare system works and how it systematically strips those who go through it of identity and does not give them the same level of support and opportunity that would otherwise have been available to them had they been taken care of in a better way. We need to do better in caring for our children, and that was a common theme expressed by all Inuit and all jurisdictions at our meeting last week, the emergency meeting on child care.
But we need to figure out how to do things first. First and foremost, preventing childhood trauma and preventing food insecurity and also doing more to protect the caregivers of our children should be some of the first steps that we take together in this new relationship. It is this generation of children and those who care for them that can break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. Those people, if given the opportunity, are going to find themselves in places where they are strengths and pillars within their own community but where they also can then have the confidence and the abilities to work on behalf of their people in a way that we want them to.
We have a lot of things that we want for ourselves and our communities and our children in 2018. We want all of our cultural and linguistic and societal practices to be ingrained in our children and ourselves. We want our rich Inuit identity, and we are very proud of being Inuk. We also want the opportunities that are afforded to Canadians, whether it’s through formal education and then through employment in the workforce or other opportunities. We have our children who are dreaming of being hockey players. My son wants to be an ichthyologist. We just have a general randomness of Canadian wishes on top of our societal wishes of being Inuk and being proud Inuit and being positive parts of our community.
We have so many things that push back against those things from happening. To hear the tragic stories of young adults who have been through foster care and didn’t ever have the opportunity to learn their language or to have a connection with the land or with their elders, those, then, are things that often systems have to pay for. So, whenever it comes to child welfare or environmental protection or the provision of mental health services or even the overrepresentation of Inuit in jails, it comes back to the essential themes of identity and opportunity. If we are not giving our young people and our children and infants the opportunity to have a strong, protective foundation on which to live a good life, then we are going to continue to run into these challenges within our systems that we are going to be ill-prepared to take control over.
So the protective factors and also just investing in success are going to lead to more success, but without taking away from the need to provide services for those who are in crisis today. So it is not that we just invest in one segment of our population. We have to know the path forward but also respect and ensure that all of our citizens get the care that they need.
Senator Pate: Thank you.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you, Mr. Obed, for this really helpful presentation and for engaging with us in this way.
I need some guidance from you. I remain puzzled as a result of being the only Canadian parliamentarian on a NATO interparliamentary mission, in September of 2017, to both Yellowknife and Resolute Bay that was organized through our Defence folks. In particular, as I understand it now, because I have been asking questions about this since I returned, the central question that I still am struggling with is based on the fact that although we had more than 10 countries represented on this interparliamentary NATO mission — and we were extremely well hosted by our defence forces, the planning, as I understand it, was done through the defence ministry — we did not meet a single Inuit leader on the entire mission. The request was made a number of times while we were in process. This was not something that was appreciated until we were under way, and even so, some five days in the North ended with not meeting a single Inuit leader.
Now, the Rangers relationship was described in very positive ways, but it was described. We did not meet a Ranger. I know I’m taking a different tack from other questions, but could you help us understand from your perspective whether there are changes that need to be made in terms of the relationship that operates between Inuit peoples on the land and our defence forces, who very often make up the majority of populations in an area? I just would really appreciate any comments you might have on this because I do remain puzzled.
Mr. Obed: Thank you.
The relationship between Inuit and the military is fascinating, and it has its roots again in World War II. The distant early warning bases that were constructed across three different latitudes across the Canadian Arctic and Subarctic were done mostly by the United States at the time. A lot of our essential infrastructure, especially our airstrips, was built by the U.S. military in some of our communities. So in Iqaluit, Kuujjuaq and Goose Bay, a number of these airstrips weren’t Canadian construction projects.
The relationship between Inuit and the military has been just as important in many communities as the one between the church or between the Canadian government, but there has been a separation over time of these because in the beginning it was complete domination. Inuit had no say in what happened. There were deals between the Canadian government and the U.S. government in relation to World War II that then allowed for the military to have a presence in the Canadian Arctic. Inuit didn’t have a say in any of that, and then, over time, that was then folded into a larger NATO occupation of certain places in the Canadian Arctic. The early warning system is still in operation, and it got to a point where Inuit and an Inuit group of companies were operating them, and that contract now is within the hands of Raytheon because of the Inuit conglomerate losing that contract five or six years ago.
The Canadian government, especially in the last 10 to 15 years, has focused on sovereignty issues and large-scale training, which often has not interacted with communities, and so even the show of force that has happened by the Canadian military in the Canadian Arctic is sometimes not necessarily appreciated by average Inuit.
Also, the federal government usually has taken great strides to say “Northerners.” Usually, when it comes to sovereignty and military, Inuit and our land claims are not recognized. It is a “northern population” that is emphasized, and that is also disheartening as a group of people who are the primary residents and the owners of Inuit Nunangat and who co-manage this space. The exclusion of us as an integral part of Canadian sovereignty but as Inuit is something that I think the Canadian federal government as a whole could do more to embrace.
As for how Canada presents itself to the world in the military conversation and about the assets it might have in Canada, what they are for and where they are located, I think there is a long way that we can go to have more respect for Inuit and Inuit Nunangat in the way the Canadian military operates in our Arctic.
Senator Christmas: Thank you, Mr. Obed. I wish to acknowledge your work advancing Inuit and Crown relations. In particular, I was interested in the recent establishment of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee. As our group is future-looking, I’d like to ask you what your future expectations or your key priorities are for this partnership committee.
Mr. Obed: I imagine the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee is a very functional political tool to work on joint priority areas. The federal government will always have specific priority areas within its mandate. In your partisan system, every time there is a change of government there is a radically different way in which priorities in this country are articulated and then worked upon.
From our side, we don’t have that same level of fluctuation or bouncing from one policy space to another. Our priority areas have been relatively consistent now for 20 or 30 years in some cases. Going back and seeing our housing issue described as a crisis in 1987 by ITC and trying to lobby the federal government for housing, I could basically take the same text today, and I have the same authority from my board of directors to say the same things to the federal government.
So this new space, this Inuit-Crown partnership table, is a place to decide upon joint priority areas within any given year. In our first year, we decided on six priority areas of Inuit-Crown partnership that we would then systematically work on together. They were not just the priority areas of the federal government or those of Inuit; they were common priority areas that we said we would work on together. I think that’s immensely important. So it isn’t something that the federal government and federal politicians marginally give us so that we can say that we had a political win and that the federal government is going to work on our issues. That is not the type of table that I want to construct and work with federal ministers at. I also don’t want to bring four or five ministers in with their mandates and then nothing else gets dealt with. We are very clear with the federal ministers who make up the Inuit-Crown partnership table. There are approximately four or five federal ministers and then our Inuit leadership, which mirrors our board structure that I described earlier, that make up this committee.
The federal ministers are agents of the Crown. They are ministers of the Crown, and they will work with us for the betterment of all priority areas, not just their own, which is also a huge departure from the way they usually work, where you have enough bandwidth for your own stuff, and if it’s not in your purview, then who cares, because that’s somebody else’s responsibility. We get caught up in that as Inuit many times because our issues are cross-jurisdictional. So we can spend the next two years chasing around five different ministries and still get the same answer from each one saying, “I’d love to help you, but you have to go to this minister or that minister.” We want to centralize the accountability within this Inuit-Crown partnership, so the Prime Minister and the ITK president decide upon a number of priority areas, and the whole of government then works on those priority areas together, whether it’s the creation of an Inuit Nunangat policy space, the creation of an Arctic policy framework that respects Inuit, or education, housing, health care, tuberculosis or reconciliation measures.
We want this to break through the barriers that we’ve always had, which often are in relation to access in time. Even if you have a sympathetic minister of the Crown, if you can’t get to them and you can’t get them to decide on working with you in a certain period of time, then you won’t get anywhere.
In relation to reconciliation measures, there are a number of outstanding human rights abuses. Either they are through the courts or there are interests that are lobbying the federal government directly in relation to resolving them. We thought the Inuit-Crown partnership table could systematically have a work plan of working through those outstanding human rights abuses so that the proponents of those issues wouldn’t have to spend the next five or six years chasing around different federal departments. We would have a commitment that they would be priorities not just from Justice or INAC but from a centre, from the PMO, from the PCO, that then would flow out.
The challenge is that that’s not the way that government has worked in the past, and also the protection of purpose and strategy is of primary concern to any ruling government. And so the openness to work together, the openness to try to figure out how to do things jointly and to respect partners within that process so that we can work from start to finish on something rather than arrive at the finish, before we have even started the conversation, through an announcement that you then have to figure out the meaning of -- that is a completely different way of working.
I think we’ve made good strides in the first year. We are about to have our second meeting with the Prime Minister, which is scheduled for late March, and we will have a joint announcement about the progress that we made in the first year that we will negotiate, because the subjectivity of work that we’ve done together needs to be replaced by a joint perspective. That’s the only way we will get the reconciliation issue to work. The federal government claiming success on indigenous reconciliation without its indigenous partners is not reconciliation and is not going to work.
Senator Christmas: Do you feel this partnership committee is the future road for a nation-to-nation relationship between the Inuit and the Crown?
Mr. Obed: I believe it can be an essential part of a renewed relationship. It is very specific in its focus. It is designed to only work on a few large priority areas that are national in scope and that are large enough that would take the centre’s time that you would need to leverage opportunities and force from the Prime Minister’s Office or any other mechanisms within the centre to make sure that departments work together, to make sure timelines are followed, to make sure Finance actually gives the funding through budgetary processes for this move ahead. We imagine there will always be between five and seven of those major things we want to work with on any given year.
We also think there could be specific work plans developed between individual ministries and ITK or Inuit regional presidents when there are things we want to do together. It won’t always be that there will be priority areas we will need to work on together with every ministry on every different thing, but for the things we do want to work together on, why don’t we create a structure where we can have results and be accountable to one another outside of the courts or outside of litigation or land claim implementation.
The challenge is always that the federal government has its own prerogative on how it makes decisions, on where it invests money, on who it listens to and who it doesn’t.
I guess the challenge is this. If you say you want a renewed relationship, if you say you want to respect indigenous peoples and indigenous peoples’ governance, if you want to reform nations, if you are a government that says that, and you can’t figure out how to then partner in the work, then what do you want?
That’s the question that we often come back to our board table with. We have a really clear understanding of what a renewed relationship means and respect of our land claim agreements or us as indigenous peoples, but we don’t quite see how our lack of involvement in decision making over some of the largest files that we are supposed to work on together plays into this renewed respect.
I think we will iron out these kinks over time. It causes us a lot of frustration but a lot of hope.
The Chair: We’ll move to second round. I believe Senator Tannas had a question.
Senator Tannas: I did, yes. It’s time for the money shot.
In September, Prime Minister Trudeau went before the United Nations and famously or infamously detailed Canada’s failure of indigenous peoples over 150 years and in many quarters was criticized for using that forum to flagellate himself and all Canadians. His speech actually, I think, was not fairly covered. There was a lot of hope and a lot of discussion about action that was not reported. But the fact is that the perception is there, and it was a significant portion of his speech.
I’d like to know from you, 20 years from now, a Canadian Prime Minister is standing in front of the United Nations, talking about the success and the fact that we have something to celebrate and be proud of in our relationship with indigenous peoples. She gets to the part where she talks about Inuit, two or three sentences to report the success, how it is a shining example of success that leaders around the world should look at that. What do those two or three sentences say?
Mr. Obed: Well, I’m assuming she is Inuk.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Mr. Obed: I think Inuit have always been pragmatic in our relationship with the Crown. There are a few things. I would say first and foremost that the speech would not misunderstand or leave out Inuit in the way in which it describes indigenous peoples and the indigenous peoples’ realities, as the Prime Minister’s speech did in certain places.
This forward-looking idea that when indigenous people are ready to control their own destiny the Canadian government will be there with money and with support in a future setting does not reflect the reality that Inuit have of settled land claim agreements, with self-governance, with aspirations of self-government or devolution. We are there today.
I needed to reflect on what was said and the idea that we weren’t captured as a model of success today, let alone in 20 years, about what we have done to put us in a place for success on Canada’s terms, in Canada’s language, within Canada’s Constitution. We’re ready. It’s now a matter of how to figure out how to get things done and make good on the promises that this government now has for indigenous people.
Success in our communities. I went through a process in Nunavut, when I was a director of social and cultural development, to create a poverty reduction strategy for the territory. We asked that question to all of the people who came out to the sessions in 25 communities. What does your community look like?
First and foremost, people said that a community would need to be healthy, so I would think that our indicators of health are going to strongly link with our indicators of self-determination, our governance models and also our educational attainment, our socio-economic status.
If we are healthy, we have the ability to live our lives the way that we want to live them. People can overcome the fact that they might not have a prerequisite in biology offered to them in a small community. You can go to an access year. People might be able to learn Inuktuk as a second language as an adult rather than having it as an essential part of their system. But if you went through hell in your childhood, you’re struggling with that on every single level of trying just to be a person that can present to the world, let alone succeed in it.
So I think a strong statement about the health of the Inuit population, the contribution to Canada’s democracy, the respect for our self-determination in Inuit Nunangat and the role that that plays not only in Canada but internationally, and also in relation to climate change and success on climate change, those are all things that I hope would be proud things that Canadians and a Canadian Prime Minister would want to tell the world about the contribution of Inuit and the place that Inuit have within this country.
Senator Tannas: Thank you.
The Chair: We’ve come to the end of our two-hour period. We have time for a short question from Senator Raine.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much. I just have a short question. That is because I was pleased that you mentioned that you weren’t consulted, that you were not happy that you were not consulted in the transformative legislation coming up around cannabis.
Does ITK have the power to deny implementation of this legislation in your jurisdiction?
Mr. Obed: No. We at ITK would work with and advocate and lobby with parliamentarians, with the Senate, to ensure that any interest the Inuit have and positions the Inuit have are then reflected within the development of the legislation or implementation of legalization of cannabis. It isn’t to say that we have not been consulted end stop; if some of our regions are saying that they have not been consulted to the level they feel is necessary, we would advocate very strongly for them to have those opportunities.
The Clyde River case was mentioned earlier in this conversation in relation to consultation, and it is a nuanced but very important new bar that’s been set about consultation before government action in relation to Inuit interests or indigenous peoples’ interests.
I do hope that we can use those decisions, those recent decisions, and also just the respect that we have for the nuance of our health and our small communities in this conversation.
Senator Raine: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. We have reached the end of our session. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank our witness today, President Natan Obed of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Thank you very much for your testimony, in particular your final comments with regard to the new structure. I think that the committee is very excited about your vision of the future.
(The committee adjourned.)