Mary Simon sees her new role as an open door for Inuit

“If we can’t make it tangible, it really isn’t going to mean a lot”

By SARAH ROGERS

Mary Simon, named last month by INAC as Minister’s Special Representative on Arctic issues, speaks to delegates at Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada’s annual general meeting in Kuujjuaq Sept. 15. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)


Mary Simon, named last month by INAC as Minister’s Special Representative on Arctic issues, speaks to delegates at Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada’s annual general meeting in Kuujjuaq Sept. 15. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

KUUJJUAQ—Ottawa’s new advisor on Arctic issues, Mary Simon, sees her new role as a chance to dig deep—into the economic, social and environmental issues facing Inuit.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett named Simon as a Minister’s Special Representative last month to help guide the development of new policies for conservation and sustainable economic growth in Arctic regions.

The role stems from new policy, jointly announced by United States President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this year, called the Shared Arctic Leadership Model—a strategy that seeks to build a sustainable northern economy and reduce climate change emissions, with consideration for traditional knowledge.

“The way I interpret that is improving relationships with the federal government, and other governments, for Inuit,” Simon told the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada’s annual general meeting in Kuujjuaq Sept. 14.

“If we can’t make it tangible, it really isn’t going to mean a lot.”

While Inuit regions have settled land claims, there is currently little in the way of a management regime in the oceans, she said, creating an opportunity for Inuit.

“People are worried—they don’t want a new process,” Simon said. “If we create something new, it’s not going to undermine or take away from what we’ve already created. It’s taken us 40 years, to get to where we are today.”

Simon pointed to one concept she intends to explore over her mandate: the creation of Indigenous protected areas, areas to be identified and managed by Indigenous groups.

As part of Simon’s soon-to-be published mandate, she’ll spend the coming weeks gathering input from northern Indigenous people, but also from governments and industry, including companies like Agnico Eagle Mines and Baffinland.

Simon hopes those conversations will help clarify issues around Inuit land claims, which she acknowledged can be largely misunderstood outside of the Inuit Nunangat.

“Most members of Parliament have very little idea of what’s going on [in the Arctic],” she said. “So having an open door to those people, maybe we have a better chance to help them understand.”

“I want to use that mechanism to support what areas you feel aren’t fulfilled in the [land claim] agreements,” Simon told the ICC Canada meeting delegates.

Based on reaction from delegates, Simon’s mandate largely has the support of Inuit leadership, who are eager to use what tools are available to help them draw attention to their regional needs.

“If Canada is going to give billions to other non-industrialized countries, then Canada has to look at Inuit as a non-industrialized nation,” Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Cathy Towtongie told Simon Sept. 15.

“We only want what other Canadians have. A good standard of living for our children.”

Not everyone around the table was optimistic that the minister’s special representative would be of benefit to Inuit.

“To me, it’s like they put you in between us and the federal government,” said the Inuvialuit Regional Corp.’s president, Duane Smith.

“We already have our land claims to dictate how our development takes place. The outcome of this is going to just look like another government report.”

Smith suggested Simon’s role should have been created under ICC Canada or Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to keep it at arm’s length from the government.

Simon told Smith that he should have raised that issue with Bennett a day earlier when the minister met with the group Sept. 14.

“The only reason I took [the position] is because I thought I could help,” Simon said.

Simon is meeting with stakeholders over the next few months, and will complete a final report on her findings by March 2017.

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