One of the most significant developments in the Canadian Arctic in recent decades has been the political mobilization of Inuit peoples across this vast region.
– Gary N. Wilson (In “Nunavik and the Evolution of Inuit Self-Government in Canada and the Circumpolar North”)
By Kelsey Hamlin
Québec has a reputation as a leader in Arctic affairs within Canada, and globally. In addition, it has had a unique, and lately more collaborative, relationship with Nunavimmiut, the Inuit of Nunavik.
A report by the UW Jackson School’s Canadian Studies Center, Québec Policy on the Arctic: Challenges and Perspectives, is the first in a series called Arctic and International Relations (view series here). The goal of the series is to transfer academic knowledge and foresight into policy options that include the Arctic Indigenous peoples.
The report is the product of a one-day workshop in May 2015 – which brought together 15 scholars from Québec, Canada, Australia, and the United States – to discuss the Québec-Nunavik relationship The scholars discussed Québec-Nunavik history, economy, social and environmental challenges, as well as future considerations.
“To date, not much has been written on the policy relationship between Quebec and Nunavimmiut,” said Nadine Fabbi, the managing director at the Canadian Studies Center and co-editor, with Vincent Gallucci, of the new Arctic and International Relations series.
The series sets out to change that.
The following is just a peek of the series’ products, the first of which is set to be released in January 2016.
Fabbi writes in the Introduction:
The fact that a dynamic policy dialogue exists between a regional government and an Indigenous people is unique and worthy of a closer analysis. … While this report does not suggest how such a policy might be developed or what it would include, the authors hope that the report begins a dialogue on an integrated Arctic policy for Québec.
Québec began taking official interest in the Arctic when Québec Premier Jean Charest’s government released Plan Nord in 2011.
Joël Plouffe (“Federated States in Circumpolar Affairs: A Northern Dimension to Québec’s International Policy?”) explains:
(Plan Nord) sought to articulate “a shared vision that [could] be implemented collaboratively and would ensure community well-being and development,” while also planning over twenty-five years (with C$80 billion in investments) “to harness the economic potential of the region, improving accessibility through transportation and communications, protecting the environment, and presenting a financial framework for investment.”
Plouffe sees Plan Nord as a political driver, mostly intended for global investors, which Québec has latched onto as a way of representing its own interests for Arctic and foreign policies.
Mark K. Watson, (“Heading South: Bringing Urban Inuit Migration into Northern Policy Debates”) Concordia University departments of sociology and anthropology, took a different approach, arguing Arctic policy should also address the root causes of Nunavimmiut out-migration to Montréal.
This happens, he argues, because Montréal is a place with post-secondary education, medical assistance, and employment.
However, the Inuit often find it difficult to get required proof of identification for access to services like non-insured health benefits, and federally, provincially, and municipally funded programs.
“All of these programs do nothing to help Inuit adapt to city life,” Watson writes. “Notwithstanding the distinct socioeconomic and educational disadvantages Inuit face in northern communities.”
He says a support network is lacking when Nunavimmiut arrive in Montréal. This only makes any possibility of getting access to what services are available limited. In turn, getting a job becomes harder, and without reliable income, Inuit opt to move between shelters and access food banks instead of finding stable housing.
Montréal, then, has a growing homeless population because of systemic problems.
Despite these struggles, and many others that multiple scholars mentioned, there are still advancements being made.
Gary N. Wilson (“Nunavik and the Evolution of Inuit Self-Government in Canada and the Circumpolar North”) from the department of political science at the University of Northern British Columbia, said Nunavik has been at the forefront of political change.
Nunavik is one of a number of Inuit regions in Canada and the circumpolar North to attain greater political and economic autonomy since the 1970s. … One of the most significant developments in the Canadian Arctic in recent decades has been the political mobilization of Inuit peoples across this vast region.
Wilson points to Nunavik being the first region to sign a comprehensive land claims agreement for one of the ways it has been a leader in developing regional autonomy and Indigenous rights.
On the other side of the same coin, Fabbi elaborates that the Inuit consist of small populations with not enough people being able to represent them. In part, she says, this is because education attainment is low, so there are few people to draw from for leadership.
“I’d say capacity is the biggest challenge of all,” Fabbi says. “The goodwill, the vision, the goal is there, but it’s reaching it that’s the challenge.”