For eight days, members of the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic travelled north on an eye-opening fact-finding mission to hear from northern Canadians about the challenges and opportunities in their communities.

Their goal was to have informal, face-to-face meetings with Indigenous community leaders, government representatives, youth, tourism officials and entrepreneurs to learn about their priorities and concerns and to experience life in the Arctic.

The whirlwind journey began on September 5, 2018, in Kuujjuaq, Que., and ended in the west in Whitehorse, Yukon.

The fact-finding mission will inform the committee’s final report, which will include recommendations for the federal government as it develops a long-term vision for the Arctic.

Here is a glimpse of what senators saw and some of the issues they discussed.

Senator Dennis Patterson, chair of the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic, and deputy chair Senator Patricia Bovey meet with Inuit youth in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Leanne Beaulieu, 22, and Kayla Carter, 26, right, are both students at Arctic College. They told senators internet access is available for free at the school but at home their families pay $84 per month for only 25 GB of data, which comes slowly via satellite. With the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, students will benefit from local researchers in their classroom and access to the lab and equipment to enhance their education.

An Inuk artist sells owl magnets outside the Arctic College in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Bottles of cranberry juice line the shelves at a local supermarket in Kuujjuaq, Que. They sell for $19.89 each. Products in grocery stores in the north can cost three times as much — or more — than the same items sold in southern Canada. Even though the federal government subsidizes food products through the Nutrition North Canada program, many food items, like cereal and juice, are still expensive.

Bags of white flour cost $16.19 each. Flour used to make bannock, a staple of the north, does not qualify for the Nutrition North Canada subsidy.

Senator Joseph Day, right, examines fox hides at the Nunavik Furs in Kuujjuaq. The facility produces approximately 500 hides per year, usually buying the fur from local hunters for $50 apiece. After the hides are tanned, the facility sells them for $150 or more. Nunavik Tannery sells hides from foxes, wolves, gophers, and, occasionally, from polar bears, while supporting the sustainable harvesting of furs with fair market prices for hunters.

Suzanne Niuqtuq sits outside her home in Baker Lake, Nunavut, after returning from a successful caribou hunt with her family. Caribou is a common type of country food in Baker Lake and is often shared with the community. The meat from this caribou will last the family about two months, Ms. Niuqtuq said. Food insecurity came up several times during the Arctic committee’s discussions with northerners.

Nunavut MLA Simeon Mikkungwak tells senators there are not enough police officers to serve the hamlet of Baker Lake. He said eight RCMP officers are required to serve the community but there are currently only five officers to respond to incidents such as domestic violence and substance abuse. Baker Lake councillor Frank Tootoo also told the committee that internet access is so poor in the hamlet that residents once went a week without connectivity.

Crumpled vehicles lie in a Kuujjuaq landfill. The landfill was the first in Nunavik to receive federal government funding to sort waste. But the cost of shipping metal to recycle is so high that it sits in the landfill with the garbage. The community wants to see more government funding to be able to burn the waste and turn it into energy for local buildings.

Kuujjuaq Mayor Tunu Napartuk, right, tells senators Victor Oh and Mary Coyle about inadequate housing in his hamlet. Homes are often overcrowded with multiple generations of family members living in the same dwelling. The lack of adequate housing was a recurring theme raised by northerners throughout their meetings with the committee.

Homes overlook the Koojesse Inlet in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Only 62% of communities in the territory have suitable housing. The cost of building a home and other infrastructure projects in the north can be 150% higher compared to those in the south due to the short shipping and construction season, harsh climate and other factors.

Senators on the Arctic committee pose with employees at Meadowbank Mine in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, located 110 kilometres north of Baker Lake. Agnico Eagle Mines operates the gold mine and employs more than 2,000 workers, many of whom identify as Inuit. An impact benefit agreement with the Kivalliq Inuit Association created economic development funds for training and hiring of Inuit workers. In 2017, 38% of all training at the mine was dedicated to Inuit employees and 66% of the female workforce was Inuit.

An overhead view of Meadowbank Mine. The mining sector is expected to grow in Nunavut, with five mines slated to be operational in the territory by 2021.

Senator Mary Coyle examines the garage at Meadowbank Mine. Behind her is a large excavator used in the mine. Many Inuit have gained valuable skills at the mine and have gone on to work in a variety of positions, including servicing heavy machinery. One Inuk worker started at the company as a janitor but became one of the mine’s top heavy equipment operators after six years of work experience and training.

Senators Mary Coyle and Dennis Patterson visit a greenhouse in Inuvik, N.W.T. The facility was formerly an arena for a residential school, which is believed to be the last operational residential school in Canada when it finally closed in 1996. While the school was demolished several years ago, the community has adopted part of the facility as a multi-use space for weddings and other gatherings.

Senators Mary Coyle and Dennis Patterson, right, listen to Polar Knowledge Canada science and technology director Alain Leclair at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The 52,000-sq. ft. building has yet to officially open but is expected to double as a research facility and a community hub for Inuit. One third of the building will be open to the public, with dedicated space available to share Indigenous knowledge about the Arctic and to record oral history with Inuit elders.

Senators Dennis Patterson and Mary Coyle visit the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility. The European Space Agency built a series of satellites in 2010 to gather real-time data for mapping and weather services in the north.

Senators Nicole Eaton and Mary Coyle speak with youth about their educational goals and needs at Aurora College in Inuvik, N.W.T.

From left, Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning alumna Jasmine Vogt, elder and professor Samual Gargan, and Dechinta’s policy and programming director Kelsey R. Wrightson speak with senators about the school’s culturally relevant, land-based programming for Indigenous students in Yellowknife, N.W.T. The group’s federal funding was cut this year due to changes to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program. They said the precarious funding situation makes it difficult for students to plan for their future.

Senator Patricia Bovey, centre, and Senator Dennis Patterson listen to a presentation by Yukon College staff. The post-secondary institution in Whitehorse is in the midst of a $65-million fundraising campaign to develop Canada’s first northern university and is seeking federal support and funding. The university aims to focus on three key areas: climate change, Indigenous self-determination and technology, and resource development.

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