Federal and territorial leaders gathered August 1 in Iqaluit to celebrate a conservation deal that will see millions in community investments – including Inuit training and employment to the tune of $55 million and roughly $190 million in infrastructure dollars – for the northern Baffin region.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Premier Joe Savikataaq, Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) president P.J. Akeeagok, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed for a morning ceremony in Iqaluit, which then culminated with a community feast in Arctic Bay.
“This project is for the people. It’s for the people of Nunavut … The promise of infrastructure and long-term support in the territory, anywhere in the territory, is welcome and appreciated, but so much more so in the High Arctic. They are left out more so from the economics of Canada than other parts of Nunavut. This is a very positive step,” said Savikataaq.
Funding will be directed toward small-craft harbours and a training centre.
When Conservative leader Andrew Scheer visited Iqaluit in June, he said he would honour Liberal commitments should his party win the October federal election.
As the premier, and others, noted, decades of work went into the development of the protected areas known as Tallurutiup Imanga and Tuvaijuittuq – together totalling roughly 427,000 square kilometres. These areas also serve the country by bringing its marine protected areas to almost 14 per cent, surpassing the Liberal government’s goal to protect 10 per cent of the country’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.
Trudeau stated these are initiatives to help combat climate change.
But, as Savikataaq explicitly stated, there is much yet to be done to bring Nunavummiut up to par with fellow Canadians.
“The people who go to Arctic Bay will see how people really are. I encourage any federal representative, go to the store in Arctic Bay and look at the price of food. Go there. The cost of living is horrendous up here,” he said.
Savikataaq then said the economic benefits of the new conservation deal would benefit the smaller High Arctic communities.
Akeeagok said he was humbled to be present on this day to represent generations of Inuit.
“I stand proud because I stand with visionary leaders, like John Amagoalik, who is here with us today,” he said.
Akeeagok also mentioned others who could not be present. It is thanks to their bold action, he said, that Tallurutiup Imanga and Tuvaijuittuq will be protected on Inuit terms.
“The work to protect our waters began in the 1960s and 1970s. Today’s announcement is a culmination of decades of work to realize a collective dream,” said Akeeagok.
“Inuit dreamed of a day when these waters would be protected. They imagined a day when Inuit would be true partners with the Government of Canada, working shoulder to shoulder to build the foundation of a new Arctic in the spirit of reconciliation.”
Akeeagok noted that permanent protection of Arctic waters comes hand-in-hand with sustainable investments.
Obed and Kotierk also spoke of the new relationship between the federal government and Inuit under the Trudeau government, a relationship Trudeau himself referenced as being different from the Conservative regime under Stephen Harper.
“Since the 1950s, Inuit have been safeguarding Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic,” said Akeeagok. “Families like mine were forcefully relocated to communities such as Grise Fiord, treated like human flagpoles. Meanwhile, in Ottawa politicians worked to build Canada from coast-to-coast, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, connecting the nation through the railway and the Trans-Canada Highway.
“Canada’s third coast was forgotten and our people left behind. Today’s investment is a step towards addressing the infrastructure inequalities between Canada’s North and south.”