Re-elected federal cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq will represent Canada at a high-level meeting of Arctic nations later this week.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked Aglukkaq, who was most recently health minister, to attend the Arctic Council's ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, on Thursday, federal officials confirmed to CBC News on Monday.

Aglukkaq will be joined by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and foreign affairs ministers from Russia, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Aglukkaq, the Conservative MP for Nunavut, became Canada's first senior cabinet minister of Inuit descent when she was appointed health minister in 2008.

The Arctic Council meeting will help determine how the eight Arctic countries will govern the area  in the future and will rule on the role on non-Arctic countries such as China and the European Union.

'Big time' meeting, says expert

Some call it the council's most important meeting since it was founded in 1996 in Ottawa.

"It is a big time," Michael Byers, an Arctic expert and professor of international law at the University of British Columbia, told The Canadian Press.

The Arctic Council, which brings together the eight nations that ring the Arctic, is increasingly seen as the world's most important body on Arctic issues.

This meeting, to be held Thursday in Nuuk, Greenland, is expected to see the signing of an international treaty on search and rescue, believed to be the first time the council has been used to make international law.

Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary's Institute for Strategic Studies said the council is evolving into a new type of international governance body. But the council will be expected to make other important decisions as well.

It will be asked whether to grant China and the European Union permanent observer status. It will also decide whether it will evolve into a full-time, year-round international body in preparation for a greater role in Arctic governance.

"It is the only official Arctic forum where the countries are getting together to discuss a variety of issues," Duane Smith, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council in Canada, told CBC News.

"Some of the issues are being put on the table to provide some perspective and insight, which is making the demand or the request on the council to assess its role and function again."

Has little foreign affairs experience

Former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon was defeated in the recent election. Aglukkaq has little or no foreign affairs experience and will be expected to take part in a roundtable discussion with her counterparts from around the circumpolar world.

Aglukkaq will be accompanied by senior diplomatic staff, but could be at a disadvantage at a meeting expected to help shape the future of the Arctic.

"She will be out of her depth," said Byers.

Still, being represented by an aboriginal northerner is "symbolically appropriate," said Byers.

"It's not perfect. But in the circumstances, it's not the worst choice," he said.

With files from the CBC's Patricia Bell and The Canadian Press