U.S. ambassador talks business, security on first trip to Nunavut

David Cohen’s 4-day stay included attending Nunavut Day festivities

By David Lochead, Nunatsiaq News - July 13, 2023
David Cohen, the United States’ ambassador to Canada, made his first trip to Nunavut this week. Cohen spoke about his time in the territory, Arctic defence and the opportunity for the U.S. to facilitate business growth in the territory. (Photo by David Lochead)

The United States’ ambassador to Canada made his first trip to Iqaluit this week, talking to government and business representatives and seeing the city.

“Everyone has been welcoming, warm and friendly,” said David Cohen, who arrived Sunday and left Wednesday. “It’s been an incredible stay from that perspective.”

Confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Canada in November 2021, Cohen spent nearly 20 years as an executive and senior adviser with Comcast Corp., an American media conglomerate.

He spoke with Nunatsiaq News on Wednesday about his time in Iqaluit and his priorities as ambassador, which include northern business growth and Arctic security.

Cohen said that while he was in the city he was able to engage in one of his embassy’s priorities of helping small and medium-sized businesses to grow.

He met with local owners to discuss opportunities and barriers they face and held a roundtable discussion with the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the accounting firm Lester Landau and Qikiqtaaluk Corp.

“One of the things we’re trying to do [in our mission] is to identify opportunities for small businesses and do what we can to reduce that barrier,” Cohen said.

One possibility, he said, could be for small businesses to partner with larger ones to extract critical minerals in Nunavut.

Asked how to encourage environmental conservation while mining natural resources, Cohen acknowledged “it is a matter of balance.”

He said people are right to worry about exploitation of critical minerals on the land.

“But there is a way to take advantage of the huge economic opportunity that exists for the Arctic, for Nunavut, in the critical minerals space while respecting the land and respecting conservation,” he said.

That includes consulting with Inuit, he said.

“Our philosophy is that we want to engage Indigenous Peoples in this decision-making at the outset,” Cohen said.

Arctic security was also on the table during his stay in Iqaluit.

Cohen credited Canada for its announcement last year that it will spend more than $38 billion over 20 years to modernize its strategy for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad, a military partnership between the U.S. and Canada.

He noted Canada’s timeline to have a new over-the-horizon radar system in place has been moved up to 2028. Over-the-horizon radar can detect incoming missiles or targets from a long distance.

“There’s a clear strategic imperative that Canada has agreed to, to make sure that Norad is adequately resourced to provide the defence awareness and defence capability that both our countries need in the Arctic,” he said.

In a joint statement Wednesday, Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Deputy Premier Pamela Gross said Cohen’s visit “will foster increased collaboration in the Arctic.

“There is a strong bond between our two regions, and we have shared interests in areas such as climate change, sovereignty and security, transportation, critical minerals and the protection of our shared waters.”

Cohen also said he enjoyed being in Iqaluit for Nunavut Day on Sunday, talking with locals taking part in the festivities.

He said he spent time with Gross and they discussed the importance of preserving Inuit culture.

“I’m getting a lot of exposure to culture, directly and indirectly,” Cohen said of his visit.

Located in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, Nunatsiaq News is dedicated to covering affairs in Nunavut and the Nunavik territory of Quebec since 1973. It has been a partner to ArcticToday and its predecessors since 2016.

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