Less jargon, more details needed in Inuit Nunangat Policy
Trudeau and Obed redefine federal government’s relationship with Inuit, but the devil will be in the details
Inuit, northerners and all Canadians need the federal government to give them as much of a sales pitch on the new Inuit Nunangat Policy as it did on its budget two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed rolled out the policy on Thursday, saying it represents a new way for the federal government to work on Inuit-led solutions to their particular challenges.
But ordinary people are going to need them to translate the government jargon into terms that will let them understand how it can to lead to meaningful change for Inuit families.
During the week after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland presented the government’s spending plan for the year, Liberal cabinet ministers hit the road to spread the gospel. Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal jetted to Iqaluit, where he held two sessions to sell Nunavummiut on the benefits of the budget.
Hopefully, a similar exercise to explain the Inuit Nunangat Policy is coming soon.
On Thursday, when Trudeau and Obed announced the policy, there was a lot of high-level government-talk.
Trudeau called it a “blueprint” for the federal government to work with Inuit, adding it’s a “whole-of-government policy” aimed at “transforming the systemic inequities” within government that have resulted in decisions being made about the North without including Inuit.
It means every federal department — whether building a wharf, an airport or developing a mental health policy — will do so “in partnership and consultation with the Inuit,” he said.
Obed echoed that, referring to it as a “transformative policy” that will “allow the federal government to make better decisions” because there will be a “foundation of knowledge” Inuit can expect from all federal government departments —not just the ones they deal with most often: Crown-Indigenous Relations, Northern Affairs and Indigenous Services.
The policy was endorsed Thursday during a meeting of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, a group of government and Inuit leaders who meet a few times a year to hash out solutions to Inuit issues.
It was necessary, according to Obed, because Inuit have “a very particular way” of interacting with the government that is different from the way First Nations and Métis do. The new policy “instructs government on how to engage with Inuit.”
The Liberal government committed $25 million over five years — which isn’t really all that much, considering how expensive it is to deliver programs in the North — to back up the policy.
Trudeau said the federal government will now recognize the Inuit homeland as a distinct geographic, cultural and political region.
That word “distinct” is a loaded term in Canadian politics. With Quebec’s historic demand to be recognized as a “distinct society” and Alberta’s me-too reaction, any use of “distinct” should sound alarm bells about what it means from a national unity perspective.
The goals of the Inuit Nunangat Policy all sounded impressive. But the thing Inuit and northerners should really want to know is, how is all that going to help them? There’s still mould in houses. There aren’t enough houses. Food is sometimes scarce. It’s terribly expensive to live in the North, and prices are climbing.
Tell us how a “whole of government approach” and an average of $5 million a year is going to result in meaningful changes that address the challenges both Trudeau and Obed said require Inuit-led solutions.