New Inuit-government dialogue a 'huge step forward,' says Natan Obed

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed says a first-of-its kind committee between Inuit leaders and federal cabinet members is a big step toward aligning set goals for addressing Inuit issues across Canada.

New committee will meet to align mutual goals to tackle Inuit-specific issues

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed has long lobbied for more meaningful dialogue between Inuit and the federal government. Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a committee will be formed to do just that. (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami)

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed says Justin Trudeau's announcement yesterday to form an Inuit-to-Crown partnership — as ITK is calling it — is a big step toward empowering Inuit voices on a national level.

The first-of-its kind committee will see Obed, along with several other Inuit leaders, sit down with senior ministers within Trudeau's cabinet at least twice a year to set out common goals and priorities to address Inuit needs, and monitor their progress.

"This is a huge step forward for our relationship, and the governance of our relationship," Obed said.

"I think the best way for us to be confident that Inuit-specific considerations will be in future budgets, future legislation, future programs and policies, treasury board considerations, will be influenced in a very large way by the work that happens within this particular group."

Obed who has long lobbied for more meaningful dialogue between Inuit and the federal government, brought up the need for such a group in his very first meeting with Trudeau as Prime Minister. He says it's gratifying to see a "foundational shift" in how the federal government interacts with Inuit.

"The fact that we can convince those who knew nothing about Inuit and knew nothing about land claims or our rights, to then transform that lack of knowledge into a respect for our rights, and a willingness to consider and then adopt a new way of working that fully recognized our rights, and tries to push forward [our] relationship to a place that is really new territory and breaking new ground, it is immensely gratifying for me," Obed said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the media after meeting with Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand, back left to right, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Natan Obed on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday Dec. 15, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Still more work to do

Some details are still being worked out on how exactly the group will operate, and how many times it will meet. ITK wants four meetings a year, including one with Trudeau at the table. Obed hopes to have the first meeting by February.

While this new group is a good first step, Obed said it's a foundation to build on.

"We have a lot of work to do to repair our relationship, or to imagine a more mature relationship between Inuit and the Crown," Obed said.

"We have a lot of foundational structure, such as our constitutionally-protected land claim agreements, such as the Constitution of Canada, such as legislation that speaks to the need to include Inuit perspective in decision-making. We need to harness all of that and that's a huge challenge ahead."


Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked three Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.