Inuit leaders ask Justin Trudeau for Inuit issues committee, 2nd Kelowna Accord
'We would welcome a Kelowna 2,' says Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie
Inuit leaders proposed the creation of a joint committee dedicated to Inuit issues during a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week in Ottawa.
Leaders from the Inuvialuit region, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut met with Trudeau.
"A key part of our meeting focused on how we can better work together with Inuit leaders, the territories and provinces," said Trudeau in a statement.
"I am eager to bring about positive change in the lives of Inuit across Canada and work together to unleash the North's amazing potential."
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed hosted the meeting.
"We pitched an idea to the prime minister to have a senior level political committee or group that would look to achieve objectives, our shared work plan," said Obed.
Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., said a committee would improve relationship between Inuit and the Crown, particularly when it comes to disputes over the Land Claims Agreement.
"With the land claims agreement, every time there has been a disagreement, almost all of us have gone to court and through the court process we've been winning cases," said Towtongie.
In addition to discussion about Inuit-to-Crown relationships, the one-hour meeting also included talks on Inuit social development and economic development priorities.
A second Kelowna Accord?
Inuit leaders also raised the possibility of a second Kelowna Accord. The accord, put forward by Paul Martin's Liberal government in 2005 and later rejected by Stephen Harper's Conservative government, was a series of agreements between the federal government and the provinces, territories and national aboriginal organizations to improve education, employment, and living conditions for aboriginal peoples through government funding and programs.
"We asked for something like Kelowna," said Obed. "We asked if there would be a similar process and said that we feel as though, as part of reconciliation and as part of really moving forward as Canadian Inuit, that something like this is still necessary."
Towtongie said, "We would welcome a Kelowna 2.
"That would assist us in dealing with difficult social issues, education, food insecurity, suicide prevention and housing, family and community violence issues along with infrastructure deficit."
Obed said although Trudeau recognized the gravity of their request, he made no promises for a second Kelowna Accord.
Obed said Trudeau said his government would address these issues by the establishment of a new relationship with indigenous communities and through a larger government approach to address the needs of these communities.
"We have to respect that he's already considered this and that he's still thinking big, but just in different ways than quote-on-quote Kelowna 2," said Obed.
Making the federal budget
Inuit leaders raised a number of areas that they hope to receive funding for in the new federal budget, including housing, infrastructure and food security.
Towtongie said she was pleased with Trudeau's response to Nunavut's food security issues and said she was hopeful that the federal budget will include innovations such as financial support for local hunters.
"The Government of Canada, when crops fail, has a farmers' subsidy program in place for the farmers. We need something similar for the hunters," she said.
Towtongie said there is a need for subsidies for ammunition, equipment costs for such things as Ski-Doos and gas.
Infrastructure was another area raised by all Inuit leaders. Towtongie listed the Manitoba-Nunavut road and the port in Qikiqtarjuaq as two examples of projects that are ready to be developed if funding were available.
"Right now Nunavut is offloading in Greenland for fisheries, and we are losing $25 million," said Towtongie. "I hope that the Government of Canada will assess the port facilities in Nunavut."
Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and Nunavut's MP, was also at the meeting.
"I was very proud to be sitting in the room with the prime minister and the Inuit leaders. I think it shows the sincerity of the commitment that the prime minister made. I don't know how often that's happened before, the actual sitting down with Inuit leaders in Canada."