THE INUIT FU­TURE

Natan Obed, pres­i­dent of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, on the idea of a na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ship, Canada’s Inuit home­lands and the role of Inuit in the world

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Aaron Kylie

Natan Obed, pres­i­dent of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, on the idea of a na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ship, Canada’s Inuit home­lands and the role of Inuit in the world

I N LATE AU­GUST, Natan Obed, pres­i­dent of the na­tional Inuit rep­re­sen­ta­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, joined Cather­ine Mckenna, the min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment and cli­mate change, on her visit to the Nu­natsi­avut re­gion of north­ern Labrador and Torn­gat Moun­tains Na­tional Park. Obed, who grew up in Nain, the ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal of the Labrador Inuit re­gion, helped tour the min­is­ter around the area, show­ing her signs of cli­mate change and ex­plain­ing the suc­cess of the park’s co­op­er­a­tive man­age­ment board, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of which claim is the coun­try’s only such all-in­dige­nous body. Cana­dian Ge­o­graphic was in­vited to join the tour and con­ducted the fol­low­ing in­ter­view with Obed from a rocky beach at the end of North Arm, Sa­glek Fiord, in the park.

On try­ing to estab­lish a na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ship with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment

The re­la­tion­ship we have with the cur­rent fed­eral gov­ern­ment is bet­ter than it has been with pre­vi­ous govern­ments with re­spect to ac­cess. Our abil­ity to talk di­rectly to min­is­ters or to talk di­rectly to the prime min­is­ter is im­pres­sive, and there have been tan­gi­ble com­mit­ments. For ex­am­ple, the Inuit-crown Dec­la­ra­tion [a com­mit­ment for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and Inuit to work to­gether on shared pri­or­i­ties that af­fect Inuit, signed in Fe­bru­ary 2017], the Inuit-crown Part­ner­ship Com­mit­tee — which has on it four fed­eral min­is­ters, the prime min­is­ter, our land-claim pres­i­dent and my­self, and which cre­ates joint pri­or­ity ar­eas and works to im­ple­ment them — and the in­tent to cre­ate an In­dige­nous lan­guage leg­is­la­tion. We are about halfway through the fed­eral man­date, and we are get­ting a lit­tle bit ner­vous about the huge amount of work that we need to do to re­al­ize the things we’ve all said we’d do to­gether. But I am also still op­ti­mistic. I want to be­lieve that this gov­ern­ment is go­ing to fol­low through, is go­ing to do what it says, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to Inuit and other In­dige­nous peo­ple, but there’s still a lot of work to do to show that their ac­tion mir­rors their in­tent.

On re­la­tion­ships with fed­eral min­is­ters

It’s es­sen­tial. In order to do work with govern­ments, you have to do work with peo­ple, and the per­son­al­i­ties of our min­is­ters dif­fer and their in­ter­est in Inuit dif­fer. I’d like to spend time with the prime min­is­ter in Inuit Nu­nan­gat [Canada’s Inuit re­gions]. I think that Min­is­ter Ben­nett [Crown-in­dige­nous Re­la­tions and North­ern Af­fairs] should spend more time in Inuit Nu­nan­gat. Min­is­ter Philpott [ for­mer health min­is­ter, cur­rent min­is­ter of In­dige­nous Ser­vices] has spent time in Nu­navik and had been sched­uled to come to He­bron, N.L. We do have good re­la­tion­ships with the Crown at this point in time. I’m re­ally happy for those re­la­tion­ships. I’m still push­ing for these to trans­fer into tan­gi­ble out­comes and ac­tions that we’ve been hop­ing for for decades — to im­ple­ment the rights that we al­ready have or to fill in gaps in in­fra­struc­ture or pro­gram fund­ing or leg­isla­tive scope that we’ve al­ways tried to ad­vo­cate for within Inuit Nu­nan­gat.

On com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Inuit and the min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment and cli­mate change

There are a lot of min­is­ters that wouldn’t un­der­stand our lands, our way of life, our lan­guage or our chal­lenges — and who wouldn’t want to. Min­is­ter Mckenna has wanted to learn and also asks the tough ques­tions af­ter she learns why things aren’t the way that she thought they were or learns ways that we can

‘ We cover 35 per cent of Canada’s land­mass with our land claim agree­ments. We are also af­fected by cli­mate change in a much more pro­found way than most of the coun­try.’

im­prove our re­la­tion­ship. Ul­ti­mately, it comes down to ac­tion. It’s good to have a strong re­la­tion­ship with a per­son who is try­ing to fig­ure out how to im­ple­ment these truly mas­sive fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties across Canada. We cover 35 per cent of Canada’s land­mass with our land claim agree­ments. We are also af­fected by cli­mate change in a much more pro­found way than most of the coun­try be­cause the Arc­tic is warm­ing at a higher rate than the rest of Canada.

On the im­por­tance of vis­it­ing Inuit Nu­nan­gat

I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that peo­ple who make de­ci­sions about these lands come to them. That’s the ma­jor rea­son why I pushed for Min­is­ter Mckenna to visit the park — to meet the peo­ple who are af­fected by the de­ci­sions made by the Gov­ern­ment of Canada in this place and to un­der­stand the con­nec­tion that we have to the land. The way the Gov­ern­ment of Canada has thought about pro­tec­tion, thought about its con­trol over de­ci­sion-mak­ing,

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