September 23, 2022

‘Nothing about us without us’: Northern premiers address Arctic Circle forum

Canada’s territorial premiers stressed the need to invest in northern communities and include northerners in decision-making at an earlier gathering on the Arctic Circle in Greenland this week.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane and Nunavut Premier PJ Akeeagok attended the Arctic Circle Forum in Nuuk, Greenland from 27-29 august. It was the first time all three had addressed the event.

Cochrane said they shared the message: “nothing about us without us”.

“For too long people have been deciding what the North needs without consulting us enough and it’s not appropriate,” she said. “We live here, we have the most at stake here and so we need to be part of those conversations.”

The three Prime Ministers led a roundtable on sovereignty and security in Canada’s North, where they stressed the importance of investing in housing, health care, education and infrastructure.

“Being able to deliver this parallel message on the international stage was hugely important as the Arctic Circle forum sort of tries to grapple and figure out where do we go from here post-pandemic?” Silver said.

He said those who want to invest in the North or fight climate change should be concerned that northern communities have the resources they need, like equal access to health care, to thrive.

International concerns over Arctic security have grown as new shipping routes open up in the Arctic due to melting sea ice – and have intensified further since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February.

“The focus on security in the Arctic has really brought attention to issues that we’ve been living with for a long time,” Akeeagok said, noting the infrastructure gap between northern and southern Canada.

“For Canada to have a strong stake in the world, investments must be made in our communities so that they become as vibrant as possible.

Akeeagok pointed to Grise Fiord, the northernmost community in Canada where he grew up and where the federal government forced some Inuit to relocate in the 1950s.

“The investments that the federal government has not made in creating this community, as well as Resolute, is something we all need to learn from.

Akeeagok said seeing the growth and infrastructure in Nuuk, such as seaports and housing construction, was an “eye opener” about what is possible for Arctic communities in Canada.

Cochrane said there was a need for international cooperation on common challenges such as climate change, geopolitical concerns and a lack of sustainable architecture compared to the south.

“We cannot think in isolation. We need to work together – not just in the Arctic region of Canada, but circumpolar,” she said.

“We all need to be involved and we all need to be around the tables and talking about it.”

Akeeagok said he was optimistic about the relationships that were forged at the forum. He signed a memorandum of understanding with Greenlandic Prime Minister Mute B. Egede, recognizing their common interest in culture and arts, education, travel and tourism, maritime infrastructure, fisheries and green energy .

Akeeagok said allowing residents to travel between jurisdictions is central to the agreement.

“The relationship that we have has always been very strong and very deep, because it’s not just in the borders that we see,” he said. “It connected to who we are, whether through our culture, our languages.”

—Emily Blake, The Canadian Press