ITK president calls for more Inuit-specific funding in pre-budget hearings

The president of Canada's national Inuit organization had a list of recommendations for the federal finance committee, during a presentation at yesterday's pre-budget consultation hearings.

'Time and time again we as Inuit find ourselves left out,' says Natan Obed

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, had a list of recommendations for the federal finance committee in Ottawa during a presentation at Tuesday's pre-budget consultation hearings. (CBC)

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed called for more Inuit-specific funding, particularly for northern infrastructure, when he spoke at the first day of consultation hearings ahead of the federal budget.

Members of Parliament on the federal finance committee heard from a dozen witnesses on Tuesday, including economic experts and various indigenous leaders.

"Time and time again we as Inuit find ourselves left out or only partially covered or covered in a way that does not reflect the realities that we live in," said Obed. 

The Inuit leader said the federal government needs to be more careful about its wording, since it is often not clear whether Inuit or Northern communities are "inside or outside" broader funding envelopes. 

"First Nations is used sometimes instead of indigenous, or indigenous is used when it only means certain indigenous peoples in Canada."

Obed pointed to an example from the prime minister's throne speech, when Trudeau spoke about making a "more effective" First Nations education system.

Infrastructure needs at forefront

When it came time to point to specific funding needs, Obed listed a number of ways Inuit communities are lacking in terms of infrastructure. 

"We still don't have ports in many of our communities even though all but two of our communities are marine communities," he said. 

Earlier this year, the Nunavut government announced Iqaluit's port project was on track to be completed by 2020, but the community of Pond Inlet says it is still waiting for confirmation that a small craft harbour that was promised during the federal election will go ahead. 

Obed also renewed calls for all 52 Inuit communities to have telecommunications infrastructure on par with the rest of Canada and for more modern methods of generating energy.

"We still have diesel generation that powers all of our communities in an age when we're looking to better and cleaner energy alternatives," said Obed.

"This is completely unacceptable."

Fulfilling promises

Investing in the North will help build Canada and improve the country's position in terms of sovereignty issues, the leader argued.

"We need large investments in ensuring that we do not live in overcrowding conditions that we are currently under now, where over half of our people now live in overcrowded social housing conditions."

The prime minister has already pledged to implement the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and launch an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. 

Now, Obed says the government will need the proper funding to fulfil those promises.

"We will expect that the budget will include funding to implement those three very large, very comprehensive and very much needed different scopes of work that will be reflective of Inuit as well as the other indigenous Canadians in a way that is respectful and comprehensive."

Funding for aboriginal groups

Obed finished off his statements with an impassioned plea for the government to increase funding for aboriginal organizations. 

Over the last 10 years, he says Inuit groups have taken "huge hits," which have made it difficult for some organizations to function. 

"This war on our people and the way in which we try to help one another represent ourselves to Canada and the world needs to end," he said.

"We need funding to be able to ensure that we can provide services at the community level and the regional level and that we can represent ourselves at the national and international levels."

The pre-budget consultation hearings will run for the rest of the week, with a federal budget expected next month.