North·Analysis

Can a new leader save Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami after drastic federal cuts?

Canada's national Inuit organization is about to elect its next president, but the future of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami may depend on more than its leader. 'Just the ebb and flow of federal funding got to the point where we had to let good people go,' says the incumbent.

'Just the ebb and flow of federal funding got to the point where we had to let good people go'

'For the past 10 years or so Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has been losing close to half of their funding,' says Terry Audla, the incumbent in the ITK presidential race. 'Just the ebb and flow of federal funding got to the point where we had to let good people go.' (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Canada's national Inuit organization is about to elect its next president, but the future of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami may depend on more than its leader. 

In the past three years the federal government has cut over $60 million in core funding to aboriginal organizations across the country. Figures compiled by the Assembly of First Nations show Inuit groups have been hit the hardest by the cuts. 

This chart, compiled by the Assembly of First Nations, shows that Inuit organizations have been hit hardest by federal funding cuts, with federal contributions down 71 per cent between 2012 to 2015. (Assembly of First Nations)

"For the past 10 years or so Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has been losing close to half of their funding," says Terry Audla, the incumbent in the ITK presidential race, "Just the ebb and flow of federal funding got to the point where we had to let good people go."

Since 2009, ITK's federal contributions were slashed by $2.5 million dollars. The Assembly of First Nations has been tracking these cuts.

"In order to have any good policy or good legislation, First Nations people need to be involved and we need to have the capacity to make sure that anything that's developed by government does not impact on inherent rights or aboriginal rights in a negative way," says National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

'All of these ways we've seen in the last five to 10 years of the federal government trying to do whatever it can to reduce the funding that Aboriginal people and especially the Inuit get,' says Natan Obed one of the three candidates for president at ITK. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
"When you don't have the resources to do that adequately, you're going to have a flawed process and a flawed policy, a flawed program and a flawed piece of legislation," adds Bellegarde.

In September 2012, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development announced cuts to core and operational capacity funding for aboriginal organizations and tribal councils across the Canada.

Bellegarde says the cuts directly impact the ability of aboriginal groups to play a meaningful role in policy development.

"The capacity is affected, the capacity to speak up and make informed dialogue, informed analysis, proper review," says Bellegarde who explains that staff are stretched too thinly and the resources are not there to assemble tribal councils together.  

James Arreak, the CEO at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says they do not receive core federal funding and that the $250 million paid to them was part of a settlement in a lawsuit over training for Inuit to enter civil service. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Natan Obed agrees, He is one of the three candidates for president at ITK. Obed says the cuts have meant a lack of direct Inuit involvement in program development.

"All of these ways we've seen in the last five to 10 years of the federal government trying to do whatever it can to reduce the funding that aboriginal people and especially, the Inuit, get," says Obed.   

Nunavut's Conservative candidate says the Harper government has made many investments to Inuit groups.  

"The Inuit organization is Nunavut Tunngavik. We just put $258 million back into the pockets of the organization that's responsible for the Inuit of Nunavut," says Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut's Conservative candidate. 

But Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., one of four Inuit bodies in Canada created out of modern land claims, does not receive core federal funding. The $250 million paid to them was part of a settlement in a billion-dollar lawsuit over implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. 

"That was damages as a result of government obligations being ignored by both levels of government," says James Arreak, the CEO at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Three candidates are running for ITK president. Jerry Komaksiutiksak did not answer requests for comment. On September 17, thirteen delegates will cast their votes for ITK president in Cambridge Bay.

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