Thursday, December 27, 2018

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Canada’s Arctic Today
Click here for the original edition as published in Trent University's alumni magazine, fall 2018


Bill Templeman
The challenges facing the residents of Canada’s Arctic tend to escape our notice in the information-saturated south. We may see a news item online about a dramatic search and rescue, or read a post about the impact of climate change on Northern hunters, but the kaleidoscope of the 24-hour news cycle quickly scrambles our impressions, and our moment of insight is soon lost. If we could get beyond the tweets and the video clips, what would Northerners tell us? What is actually happening in the Arctic right now? What are the top priority issues for the people who live there? How are we, as a country, dealing with these challenges? Are we seeing any successes? And what can we learn from our efforts that might help Northerners as we move into the future? We have to keep wrestling not only with what to do, but overcome our biases about how we work with Northerners. Past governments have had a tendency to develop solutions to Northern problems here in the southern parts of the country, then ship those Southern solutions to the North, only to scratch our heads in puzzlement when the solutions don’t work as planned.
TRENT Magazine reached out to Trent alumna Sarah Cox ’85, who is the director, Circumpolar Affairs Directorate of the Department of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade in the federal government, as well as the head of the Canadian Delegation for Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council. We hoped to draw on Sarah’s extensive experience in project collaboration with Northerners to find out what all Canadians can do to help Northerners discover their way forward in very uncertain times. Where do we all stand right now? As a nation, how are we doing in our stewardship of the Arctic?

Sarah Cox (SC): 
It is important to understand that while I have worked on Northern issues for 8 years, worked in partnership with northerners and I have travelled up there, I am not a Northerner. First of all, there is the sheer vastness of the place. There are about 200,000 people in the Arctic, yet it represents 40% of Canada’s landmass. There are four Inuit regions in Canada’s Arctic. While everyone has heard of Nunavut, there is also Inuvialuit (the northwestern part of the Northwest Territories), Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador), and Nunavik (Northern Quebec). All four are settled land claims, which is pretty progressive.TRENT Magazine (TM): 64% of Canadians live within 100km of the US border—and the vast majority of Canadians live closer to the United States than the Arctic. While we consider ourselves a northern nation, most Canadians don't have a firm grasp of life up North or the issues that Northern Canada is currently facing. Could you give us snapshot of the North as you know it?
The cultural reality of the Inuit is that they lived in seasonal camps until the 1960s, which means there are a lot of middle-aged people who grew up in these camps, not in communities with houses and streets as we know them in the South. Of the 53 permanent communities, most of them are fly-in only. There is no road access. The Inuit travel between settlements on snowmobiles; these trips can take two days or more. The cost of living is 80% higher than in the South. There is a very short ocean shipping season. Inuktitut is the strongest Indigenous language in the country; this is important because we know that language is a major anchor for culture. The median age of the Inuit is 18 years younger than the Canadian median age, so there is a burgeoning youth population.
The North is so diverse in terms of landscape, language, and people. There are a lot of different dialects. The Northwest Territories is treed, whereas Nunavut is above the treeline; these are very different landscapes. One of the things that strikes you is when you fly into Nunavut, you are flying over ice for a very long time. The remoteness of the Arctic is truly dramatic. That’s my snapshot of the North; it’s very beautiful in a very unique way. While you might call it rugged, in the summer you can walk across the tundra and fill your belly on blueberries. I am completely enamoured of the North, having travelled up there quite of few times.
TM: What are some of the current hot-button Arctic issues for the people who live there?
SC: Obviously a no-brainer is climate change; we all know that the Arctic is an early indicator of climate change. We all know about the melting sea ice. Hopefully every Canadian knows that the Arctic is facing serious challenges because of climate change.
Reconciliation is another top issue. While reconciliation is a big issue for the federal government, this reconciliation must go far deeper than government policy statements; all Canadians need to get involved in this reconciliation dialogue with the Inuit and First Nations of the Arctic.
Mental wellness and suicide prevention are huge issues. Suicide rates are very high in the Arctic, approximately 12 times the rate in Southern Canada. Our minister has described suicide in the North as an epidemic. Everyone in the Arctic knows someone who has committed suicide. From my perspective, one of the challenges is to discover how Southerners can collaborate with Northerners to support mental wellness. What works, what doesn’t work and how do we know? This is something that will take generations. There is likely nothing more important than this in terms of collaboration. There are so many issues driving this suicide rate, such as colonization, relocation of Inuit families in the ’50s, and the impact of the residential schools.
Housing is a huge issue for sure. There is overcrowding, which contributes to a lack of mental wellness, an inability to do homework and poor health. One person catches a cold and the whole house gets sick. Other issues include connectivity, better infrastructure, and that the whole North depends on diesel. This technology needs to be replaced. There is a lot of interesting planning going on with renewable energy.
Another issue is education outcomes for high school graduates. The curriculum that is being used needs to be looked at. The government of Nunavut has developed some very good curriculum that is more appropriate for the North.
There is also a steadily growing international interest in the Arctic. How we manage this interest is a discovery process. How do we manage that interest in a way that is beneficial to Northerners? A lot of states that you would never think might be interested are getting involved: China, Singapore, the Netherlands, Germany; they are not Arctic states but they’re very interested in Arctic research. Some of this interest is related to resource extraction, but not all. There is research interest in traditional ways of life and in pure scientific research. There is also research interest in shipping routes.
How, as a country, are we dealing with these hot-button issues?
SC: That’s a huge question! There are postgraduate programs on this topic and books have been written, hundreds of books. There are so many government departments that are doing innovative work in collaboration with Northerners. The ministries of the environment, fisheries and oceans, natural resources, emergency preparedness, and intergovernmental affairs, plus others, have extensive programs in the North. The development of a new Arctic and Northern Policy Framework in partnership with territories, provinces and Indigenous governments helps to provide a useful context. This policy framework is precedent-setting, in part because it is the product of co-development.
Another concern is that Canadians really don’t have access to the North. It is so wildly expensive to get there. If you are faced with a choice between vacationing in Costa Rica, Europe or the Canadian Arctic, the Arctic will not win very often. But it would be great if more Canadians could get up to experience the Arctic. Canadians have to stop thinking of the Arctic as an uncharted frontier. The Inuit have lived up there for thousands of years. They know the landscape, the environment and the culture extremely well.
TM: What is working well right now?
SC: I can’t speak to the work of all the other departments of the government. The amount of detail would be huge. But I can speak to the work of the Arctic Council. The Council is an intergovernmental body that promotes the environmental, social and economic sides of sustainable development in the Arctic. One of the keys to success of the Arctic Council is that it is a consensus-based organization. A second success factor is the fact that the Council has six Indigenous organizations from across the global Arctic as permanent members, so deliberations are always grounded in the lived reality of the people for whom all projects are intended to serve. A third success factor is the practice of integrating local knowledge and experience into all decision making. The Arctic Council is not about Southerners telling Northerners, “This is what you have to do…”. The Council is all about generating Northern solutions for Northerners, not Southern solutions for Northerners.
Canada plays a vital role on the Arctic Council, a role for which all Canadians, regardless of where they live, should be proud. If Canada was not at this table, we would be really missed.
One of the Council’s six working groups focuses on sustainable development in terms of living conditions and how to improve the lives of Arctic residents. This group, the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), is evolving from doing a lot of best-practice work and research to designing and running projects that actually make a difference for Northerners living in their communities. One of my key functions is to serve as delegation head for the SDWG. My role is to work with the eight member states and six circumpolar Indigenous organizations to improve the lives of Northerners. We deal with the social sciences, not the natural sciences.
One of SDWG’s current projects is the Arctic Renewable Energy Network Academy (ARENA). Every community in Canada’s Arctic is dependent on diesel fuel for heat and electricity. One of the goals of ARENA is to foster the development of renewable-energy-literate community members. These advocates can go back to their communities, assess their local situations and determine which alternative energy solution might be best. These graduates of ARENA have the tools to get a local project set up and find out who they have to partner with in order to get renewable energy into their communities.
What is happening now that is very encouraging is that there is a growing awareness that many projects have a long time-cycle. Particularly in areas like mental health, the project cycle needs to be long, maybe ten years or more. Another exciting trend is that the six-member circumpolar Indigenous groups are beginning to put their own project concepts forward. This is fantastic, because now we can follow their lead.
We also have strong relationships with a number of academics. These relationships open up the possibility of new project ideas and the sharing of successes across all the groups.
Another successful SDWG project is a suicide prevention program focused on developing a digital resource of Inuit youth experiences with suicide. This project, which is run by youths across the Canadian Arctic, takes full advantage of the emergence of a talented pool of local filmmakers and videographers. The output of this program provides youth with a powerful, digitalized resource, created by people their own age, in their own language, and of their own culture.
We are using the power of networks or clusters to build sustainable change. For example, food security is a huge issue across the Arctic. There is a shortage of food that is nutritious and affordable. So we are developing networks of people who are working on food issues and coming up with ideas and solutions they can share using the traditional foods.

SC: 
Another huge question! We need to collaborate more and enter into equal partnerships with Arctic residents. Above all else, we need to listen. Gone are the days where “made in Ottawa” solutions are shipped north for implementation without extensive input from those for whom these solutions have been designed. We need to learn more about the Arctic, and if possible, go up there. The Arctic Council and the SDWG need to do a more thorough job of communicating with Northerners and with the rest of Canada about the challenges and successes that are coming out these efforts. Southerners and others who are working with Arctic residents need to remember to always respect local experience and to value local knowledge. The Arctic needs Southerners to be ambassadors for them.TM: What more do we need to do?
Another positive development to keep track of is the growth of programs at universities like Trent that concentrate on the Arctic. These university programs lead to growth in career options for working on the full range of issues in the Arctic. Grads shouldn’t eliminate the possibility of working on northern Arctic issues. It is so engaging. The North is really a microcosm of government. Every portfolio you can think of—health, housing, education, employment, social services, economic development, resource management, environmental protection—they are all here. Whatever your interests are, you could find a way to work on them in the North.