OPINION | Inuit need a federal government willing to work with us

As election day approaches, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association wants Canadians to elect a government that will continue to work with Inuit in the spirit of reconciliation, writes its president P.J. Akeeagok.

Future Arctic policies must be Inuit-led and Inuit-driven, writes Qikiqtani Inuit Association president

Throat singers take part in an event to mark the federal government's apology to Qikiqtani Inuit for historical forced relocations. Ottawa has a long history of neglecting Inuit and the Inuit regions of Canada, writes the Qikiqtani Inuit Association's president P.J. Akeeagok. (Vincent Desrosiers for Qikiqtani Inuit Association)

P.J. Akeeagok is the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, a non-profit that represents about 15,500 Inuit in Nunavut's Qikiqtani (​​​Baffin) region.

As election day approaches, we at the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) ask Canadians to elect a government that will continue to work with Inuit in the spirit of reconciliation to protect our land and waters while securing a future for our people.

Throughout the past year, we have been demonstrating what a successful Inuit to Crown relationship can look like and what is possible for Inuit Nunangat — the Inuit homeland in Canada — when the federal government breaks down the silos between departments and allows Inuit-led solutions to prevail.

By coming to the table and allowing Inuit to lead, the government of Canada in partnership with the QIA was able to protect nearly 7.5 per cent of Canada's marine and coastal areas around Lancaster Sound and off Ellesmere Island through the Tallurutiup Imanga and Tuvaijuittuq agreements, and secure good jobs and desperately needed marine infrastructure in the High Arctic. 

These achievements are a blueprint for advancement in the Arctic — a model for what can be accomplished when Inuit are treated as equals.

A file photo of Iqaluit. Akeeagok would like the next government to help close the infrastructure gap that's well known in Nunavut. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Ottawa has a long history of neglecting Inuit and Inuit Nunangat. It took the QIA decades to secure a formal acknowledgement and apology from the government of Canada for the modern-day colonial practices, such as forced relocations and the killing of qimmiit (sled dogs), imposed on Inuit in the Qikiqtani region between 1950 and 1975. 

This apology, offered in August, was accompanied by an initial investment from the government of Canada to begin to address the recommendations of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which spent years compiling interviews and historical documentation in a comprehensive report about the colonial policies and practices imposed on Inuit by the government of Canada. However, much more is needed to truly achieve reconciliation and provide Inuit with the tools required to heal.

It is well known that Nunavut has a critical infrastructure gap – our communities fall far behind the rest of Canada. Qikiqtani Inuit have been calling for a deep-sea port in Qikiqtarjuaq to be able to grow our fishing sector and create more jobs and opportunities in Nunavut. 

The QIA believes that industries such as sustainable fisheries and clean energy can offer Inuit opportunities for economic growth while protecting our environment. Growing sustainable industries will also help alleviate Nunavut's reliance on unsustainable resource industries. 

Liberal candidate Megan Pizzo-Lyall, Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq, the NDP's Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and the Green Party's Douglas Roy are running in Nunavut. (CBC)

For too long, Ottawa has made decisions about Inuit Nunangat without adequate consultation or input from Inuit organizations in the North. In order to be effective and strategic, future policies for the Arctic must be Inuit-led and Inuit-driven within a whole-of-government framework. 

The QIA wants to work with a government willing to acknowledge the longstanding inequalities between Inuit and non-Indigenous Canadians, that's willing to take action on reconciliation for past injustices by implementing long-term, adequate, and stable funding for economic and social development in the Qikiqtani Region. 

Inuit want to move away from Band-Aid solutions to real long-term stable investments in the Arctic that empower our communities. It's our homeland, our future and our vote — I hope every Inuk casts their ballot on Oct. 21.

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About the Author

P.J. Akeeagok was first elected president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in 2014. Originally from Canada's most northern community, Grise Fiord, Akeeagok has devoted his career to representing Inuit in Nunavut. Prior to becoming QIA's president, Akeeagok served in numerous roles with Inuit organizations, including Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.