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Keynote Speech Northern Lights Festival 2014

Speech: January 31, 2014
Event Date: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ottawa Salon, Level 2 – Ottawa Convention Centre


Good morning everyone.

My staff has reminded me that this is a breakfast speech, so I want to keep things light, but I also want to set an inspiring tone to start your day of networking and promoting and business.

As President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, I want to say how proud we are to be Diamond sponsors of this fantastic event.  I want to congratulate the organizers – Labrador North Chamber of Commerce and the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce for putting together such an extraordinary 4 days.

This is a tremendous opportunity for people from the North and South to find ways to build opportunities across Canada and particularly in our region.  I am especially proud to see so many Inuit here promoting our culture and traditions.

We are equally proud to have Northern Lights as a principal sponsor of our annual event – A Taste of the Arctic – in partnership with the National Arts Centre and the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Since 2010, this evening celebrating Inuit culture and cuisine has attracted key decision makers from across the Canadian Arctic, and has proven to be an excellent opportunity to forge productive relationships with Inuit leaders.

This year, the event will take place on April 7th at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and tickets are on sale now on our website

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to pay regard to Senator Charlie Watt on the 30th anniversary of his appointment to the Senate.

Senator Watt has dedicated these last three decades to advancing the rights and interests of Inuit. His achievements have including participation in the negotiation of the first modern land claims agreement and work on the entrenchment of Aboriginal Rights in the Constitution.

We owe Senator Watt a debt of gratitude for these years of service. Though I understand that he could not be here today, I would like to honour him anyways for his service to Canadian Inuit.

I am extremely honoured to represent Inuit across Inuit Nunangat – an area that is about 40% of Canada’s landmass and 50% of Canada’s coastline.

Unlike in other parts of Canada, Inuit have a very young population – more than half of our adult population is under 25 years old. So it is important for the preservation of our future that we all remain good mentors for the younger generation coming along behind us.

I believe that now is an especially crucial time to improve the lives of Inuit by creating opportunities that will allow our communities to become more self-reliant and to be leaders for the young people who will live with the decisions we are making today.

During ITC’s first meeting in 1971, the late Jacob Oweetaluktuk made a statement about self-reliance that is still relevant and rings true.

He said: “During the early stages when the government first came into our communities, it was quite all right for them to look after our own problems, administration, and so on… Our culture is still here, but in the near future, it is not going to be the same as it used to be.  If this continues too long…there won’t be any power left in us… there won’t be anything left that we can do if it continues this way…we will never be able to do things on our own, like decision-making… We have to find an organized voice amongst ourselves so we may direct our lives the way we want them to be.  Right now is the time to act and form so we may control ourselves in the kind of life we would like to have in the future.”

And, we have acted.

Since the formation of our organization in 1971, we have continued to use our united Inuit voice to education and advocate for positive changes with the goal of seizing full control of our lives.

Inuit strength has always been in our unity.  And I believe we will continue to be strong so long as we work together.  Despite us being spread across 2 provinces and 2 territories and a land mass that is somewhere between the size of India and Australia, there is an important and unbreakable thread that connects us.

ITK is proud to be the national voice for Inuit. Inuit ARE United in Canada and it is that national voice that will help propel us into a brighter future.

We need your assistance and support every step of the way to ensure that Inuit are properly represented and have an organized, cohesive voice at the table to influence decisions that will shape the years to come.

I believe we can all read the signs and feel what is coming. We can all sense that now is the time for Canada’s Arctic.

As Globe and Mail Editor, John Stackhouse wrote in the recent feature on the North: “Our great northern span, through the territories and the Arctic, is in the midst of an epochal shift. Climatically, economically, socially and culturally – our North is being redefined in ways that will shape Canada for the century ahead. ”

It is time for us to focus on ways to develop the economy in the North for the betterment of our people while considering the unique environment that supports Inuit.

We know that countries around the world – including our own – are looking towards the “North” as the next frontier.

As the world gazes in our direction for opportunity and development, it is our responsibility to point out that the Arctic is our homeland and Inuit have been the stewards of the Arctic for millennia.

We will continue to be the stewards of our homeland for millennia to come.

In order to address the challenges and seize the opportunities of changes in the Arctic environment, culture, technology and economy require innovative approaches, mobilizing the best knowledge from various sources into concrete solutions. There are many ways to do this.

One way is through the Arctic Inspiration Prize, which recognizes and promotes extraordinary contributions made by people gathering knowledge and making plans to implement this knowledge in real world applications for the benefit of the Canadian Arctic, Arctic People and therefore Canada as a whole.

This $1 million CAD Arctic Inspiration Prize is awarded annually through a nomination and selection committee process which has recently been announced on their website – completed nomination packages are to be submitted by October 1st.

I encourage Northern businesses to see this opportunity to join, contribute or be nominated to the Arctic Inspiration Prize in the future.

As we work to combat troubling challenges in our communities, like housing, food security, access to education, health and mental wellness, we need to find ways to improve our economies on a parallel track, with the injection of innovative investments, creation of new jobs and instilling renewed confidence in our communities.

Resource development is one way we can work together for the betterment of our communities while remaining protectors of the land we rely on for food and for our traditional way of life.

To put the potential resource development opportunities in Inuit Nunangat into perspective, I looked at some statistics published by the Canadian Mining Association.

According to their most recent report, in 2011, the mining industry employed 320,000 workers across Canada and contributed $35.6 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product.  At that time, the average weekly pay for a mining worker was $1,436.

Moreover, and most importantly for Inuit, Canada remained the world’s top destination for the exploration of resource extraction – and the focus of this exploration was largely in Canada’s North.

It is important to take note of this sector of the Canadian economy and the exploration for the earth’s riches that is happening all around us, the good, the bad and the ugly.

A 2011 article in the Economist called “Now it’s Their Turn: The Inuit prepare to defend their rights” goes into detail about our resource rich homeland.

Most notably, it focuses on our collective determination to be involved and protect our interests.

The author writes: “the Inuit are determined not to be bowled over. They have amplified their power by banding together in the Inuit Circumpolar Council, (ICC), a body created in 1977. They have used their membership of various United Nations bodies to compare notes with indigenous groups from around the world. …

“The Inuit are not against development, but want to ensure that it happens on their terms. This partly means sparing the environment—but it also means receiving their share.”

In other words, Inuit want preserve our homeland and our environment but we also want to use this opportunity to put roofs over our children’s’ heads, food on the table and have access to basic social resources.

These things are within our reach.

For centuries, we have watched our lands and waters exploited by everybody – except Inuit.

It strikes at the very heart of our values to exploit the land.

Now, through comprehensive land claim agreements and cooperative management systems – including the Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreements, we can protect our way of life, protect our land and we can engage – as meaningful partners – with development projects for the economic betterment – and, ultimately the improvement of our communities.

This is truly a watershed moment for our people.

I have listened, with interest, to the other speakers and to the discussions here at this showcase and I am pleased to hear the same message from everyone.

Our partners in the Federal government represented by Minister Leona Aglukkaq spoke at the opening ceremonies about her government’s efforts to grow the Northern economy.  Premier Peter Taptuna spoke of the emerging industries in Nunavut – like mining and fisheries.

Cathy Towtongie spoke about the great potential of our region and many, many other voices have added to this growing chorus.

It is incredibly important that these discussions are happening.

Investments into programs like Students on Ice – which we heard about yesterday from Geoff Green – are coming to our region;

People around the world are taking notice wanting to know more about our way of life, and we are happy to teach them.

Because, ultimately, we know that the best way to protect the Arctic is to support the people that live in the Arctic.

And the best way to support the people is to help us create the economic and social climate for self-reliance that respects our culture, our values and our traditions.

Each of our land claims organizations has as its central theme, the need to end poverty and create self-reliance through economic development.

For example, one of the basic goals of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement is to be equal and meaningful participants in the northern and national economy and society through economic development, wealth creation and self-reliance.

The Nunavut Land Claim Agreement calls on the Government of Canada to provide Inuit with a means of participating in economic opportunities, and to encourage self-reliance and the cultural and social well-being of Inuit.

Makivvik Corporation’s objectives are to relieve poverty, to promote the welfare, advancement, and education of the Inuit, and to develop and improve the Inuit communities and improve their means of actions.

Finally, the Nunatsiavut Government is driven by fundamental principles derived from the Labrador Inuit Constitution that expresses core beliefs in the pursuit of a healthy society and sustainable economy.

And – we are all pursuing these goals with vigour.

By participating in events like this one, by informing and educating others about our way of life and by asserting our needs and desires, we are doing it.

We are setting the stage for responsible economic development that will bring the self-reliance and social change we have been pursuing for decades.

We continue to work together to strengthen our voice so that as the world comes knocking on our door, we can let them in – on our terms – and be able to explain to them how we protect and preserve Inuit Nunangat – our home.

Friends, if the future is in the North, then the future is ours for the taking.

I wish you all the best here at the Northern Lights Conference.  I hope you have successful meetings, make positive contacts and enjoy the great hospitality of this conference.

And we hope to see you at A Taste of the Arctic on April 7th.

Thank you.



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