Trudeau, Canadian Inuit group launch joint working group

By Thomas Rohner, Nunatsiaq News - February 9, 2017
1218
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed met in Iqaluit Thursday to sign an agreement launching a new Inuit-to-Crown working policy group. (Thomas Rohner / Nunatsiaq News)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed met in Iqaluit Thursday to sign an agreement launching a new Inuit-to-Crown working policy group. (Thomas Rohner / Nunatsiaq News)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touched down in the Nunavut capital of Iqaluit Thursday to meet with Inuit leaders from across Inuit Nunangat and, among other things, to officially launch a new bilateral working group.

“It’s a tremendous pleasure to be here in town to be welcomed by [Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President] Natan [Obed] and all the leaders around the table,” Trudeau said, flanked on either side by Obed and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s newly elected president Aluki Kotierk.

In January 2016 Obed pitched the idea of a joint political body to the prime minister to help foster a new working relationship between Canadian Inuit and the Crown.

In December, on the first anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report release, Trudeau followed suit, announcing the creation of three such bodies to work on policies and shared priorities with Canada’s three national Indigenous groups — ITK, the Métis National Council and the Assembly of First Nations.

“It’s an important step in the partnership that I know needs to exist between the Crown and Inuit. We have many challenges but many opportunities as well,” Trudeau said.

In a one-minute photo-op before the Thursday morning meeting, Obed introduced the prime minister and said little else.

But in December 2016, Obed said, “We are encouraged by the announcement today of distinction-based entities that would create partnerships between our rights holders and the Government of Canada.”

The working policy group will consist of four federal ministers, the presidents of ITK, NTI, and Nunavut’s three regional Inuit organizations, as well as representatives from the Makivik Corp., the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. and the Nunatsiavut government.

Trudeau brought several members of his cabinet for the Iqaluit meetings including Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Health Minister Jane Philpott, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean Yves Duclos and Bennett’s parliamentary secretary, Labrador MP Yvonne Jones.

“We’ve worked toward this moment to be able to create an Arctic policy framework, a relationship moving forward… that’s going to make a huge difference for the North, yes, but for the people of the North,” Trudeau said Feb. 9.

But Tory MP David Yurdiga, Official Opposition Critic for Northern Affairs, issued a statement Thursday questioning the prime minister’s commitment to helping northerners and fostering new relationships.

“Since taking office the Liberal Government has only made life in the North more difficult. His carbon tax is driving people into poverty and raising the cost of food. His cuts to the territories are making it harder for the territorial government to deliver essential services,” Yurdiga said in a news release.

“We know Trudeau doesn’t actually care about consultation. It was only a month ago that he banned all oil and gas exploration in the Arctic for five years without consulting the people his decision was going to affect.

“Trudeau talked about important first steps. Those steps already exist, and were laid out in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. He just needs to start respecting that agreement.”

The signing ceremony to officially create the bilateral policy body with Inuit took place at NTI’s Iqaluit offices at 1:30 p.m.