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

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, listens as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed speaks to reporters about the federal government’s new Inuit Nunangat Policy at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday. (Photo by Corey Larocque)

By Corey Larocque

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.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Pork Pie on

    You’ve taken a beating lately, Corey… but this is a good piece.

    I want to touch on this point: “any use of “distinct” should sound alarm bells about what it means from a national unity perspective.”

    Indeed, it might sound alarm bells, but that doesn’t diminish the validity of the point. Inuit Nunangat is a distinct region in Canada, in the same sense that Quebec is one also. If we are alarmed it is because the fact of regionalism challenges our sense of Canada as a sort of melting pot of identities, a monochrome print that appears the same from all angles. We are afraid that if we don’t see Canada in this way (or more accurately, if it isn’t this way) we might be on a path toward fracturing and Balkanization—or worse, special treatment for some groups and not our group.

    That aside, you’re right to say this policy needs to be delivered to the public in terms that are much easier to understand, for now it seems hopelessly vague. If this policy truly is “historic” and “transformative” then why not let the public in on it?

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    • Posted by A Sop on

      It is pretty much a meaningless sop. I believe that the overwhelming majority of Canadians don’t know what Inuit Nunangat is, couldn’t name any regions, nor find them on a map.

      More importantly, from what I can see, it doesn’t change any of the administrative or power relationships between the regions and the provinces.

  2. Posted by Tulugaq on

    Inuit like other Indigenous peoples have distinct rights based on international instruments, the Canadian constitution and the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples that is now part of Canadian laws. That Inuit Nunangat is a distinct society is just recognizing the obvious and Canada is anything but an homogenous society.

    Yet, the federal government still acts as a colonial power in its interactions with Indigenous people and this “policy” reflect this situation as it seems to be full of empty words. While Inuktut is one of the official languages of Nunavut and the language of the vast majority of the population, the government and, in particular, the court system, operate mostly in English as a colonial language. Recently the Nunavut Court of Appeal considered Inuktitut like a “foreign” language in terms of the test that must be met for translation: it used the Tran decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, a case where the language involved was vietnamese. The Court did not consider the fact that Inuktut was one of the official languages of Nunavut. Federal prosecutors argued against the special status of Inuktut as an official language on the eve of this “policy”.

    Inuit should expect much more from the government, in particular in terms of health, housing and significant actions for decolonization and reconciliation; this paper is unlikely to make a difference.

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    • Posted by Reality Check on

      The court decision was absolutely correct, and needs to be reinforced.

      We as Canadians support two official languages at the federal level, end of story.

      Regional or territorial minority languages are the responsibility of the ethnic group or province, not other Canadians.

      If the feds support Inuktitut it would require serious re-writing of Canadian laws and ways, and in the name of equity, the support of all minority languages. Few are prepared to re-open the constitution to grant such status.

      Your concerns are not properly the remit of the federal government.

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      • Posted by Languages on

        Well, we as Canadians only used to support English as a language and that changed because a minority of the country spoke French and pushed for its language to be recognize so its culture could thrive. There are many examples of governments across the country using Inuktitut, other Indigenous languages and languages from minorities such as Chinese, to get messages across to audiences. They are minorities, as the French were viewed, if you look at the country as a whole but regionally and locally they are a majority, as Inuit are in Nunavut. Things change, our perspectives change, societies change, our laws and incl our constitution have changed and can change accordingly. English and French being the only two languages of government is a choice, not an inevitability. Not saying it is cheap or easy, but using other languages than these two is already being done and can be done. Other parts of the world juggle with different languages. It is good to speak, read, write, respect other languages; this is part of respecting different cultures. Cultures are tied to their language. Not understanding the reluctance expressed above.

  3. Posted by Independent Negotiator on

    I don’t know why Nunatsiaq News doesn’t feel like the Collective Agreement between the GN and the NEU is an important topic to report on, so I’m going to comment about it on other articles.
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    All GN employees should vote “No” to the new Collective Agreement. It’s actually pretty insulting.
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    The GN thinks you’re all idiots. They’re trying to buy your compliance with a measly lump sum payment of $3500, because yes, it does sound pretty nice after 4 years of stagnated salaries. But you actually deserve more than that, and you deserve it added to your base salary, not a one-time payoff.
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    According to the Bank of Canada, over the first 4 years of the agreement, inflation was 12.04%. The increases in the agreement over the first 4 years compound to 4.05%. If your outdated base salary is $80,000, this means that your new salary after the first 4 years would be $6,392 less than what it would be matching inflation.
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    Not only that, but your retro pays over the years since October 2018 will be less than what they would be matching inflation. Again, if you made a base of $80,000, retro for the first 4 years of the agreement (assuming it was October 2022) would be $6,054. That’s compared to $17,396 if you followed the Bank of Canada’s inflation. How does that $3500 lump sum payment look now? Especially considering your base salary will also be $6,392 less.
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    The other thing is that it’s shown on Page 4 of the Memorandum of Settlement that the NNA Allowance is based on a 2018 Conference Board of Canada report, but the GN only wants to start paying it effective April 1, 2022. Why not April 1, 2018? That would be much more appropriate based on the report.
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    And finally, that lump sum payment only applies to those on strength at ratification. Sure, maybe that doesn’t matter to you now, because you’re on strength, and the GN is banking on you accepting that. But what about those that retired a year ago? They earned those inflation adjustments, but they’re being shafted because the GN and NEU couldn’t figure themselves out. Is that the GN’s strategy? Will they do that to you, too, when you retire?
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    The NEU negotiators should be embarrassed with what they’ve accepted from the GN.

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