Mary Simon responds to Jim Prentice
I read with interest the letter to the editor sent by the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Jim Prentice, last week.
The letter was a response to the Canadian Inuit report to the 10th General Assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Barrow, Alaska on Monday July 7.
As newly elected President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, I delivered that report as the head of the Canadian delegation in Alaska. The report was a summary of both the positive and disappointing developments that Inuit in Canada have faced over the last four years.
Mr. Prentice and I have not yet had an opportunity to meet in my new capacity as ITK president, and there is a possibility that we may be speaking past each other on a number of important matters of shared concern. In order to reduce any confusion, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify my views on some of those matters.
On the topic of the federal government’s post-election decisions on aboriginal program expenditures, I must repeat what I said at Barrow and what I said to provincial and territorial premiers meeting this week in Corner Brook.
Honouring the Kelowna accord commitments — $5.1 billion to be spent over 10 years on aboriginal housing, health, and education investments — is vital for two reasons. First, the investments are desperately needed to begin to close the shameful gap in living standards and prospects between aboriginal and other Canadians. Second, 19 governmental and non-governmental parties, including the Government of Canada, gave their word at Kelowna, after two years of non-partisan research and debate.
Much has been said in recent court decisions about the “honour of the Crown” in its interactions with aboriginal peoples. Upholding the honour of the Crown means, if nothing else, standing by high profile commitments made in its name.
I am heartened that Mr. Prentice and his colleagues are pledged to respecting the principles of the Kelowna accord and, in that regard, have announced the expenditure of $300 million on affordable housing in the territories, including $200 million in Nunavut, spread over three years.
These announced expenditures are badly needed and most welcome. But in order to be more than just a one-off, they must be situated within a comprehensive multi-year program of action that has reasonable prospects for concrete success.
The need for multi-year, adequately financed interventions on core Inuit social and economic challenges is a key message in Thomas Berger’s March 1 report on the state of Nunavut land claims agreement implementation. I note that, shortly after release of Mr. Berger’s report, NTI indicated its acceptance of his key recommendations. Inuit are still waiting to learn the definitive positions of the Government of Canada and Nunavut.
Government must, of course, take the time necessary to deliberate on fundamental policy choices; and, it is my hope that, having now taken that time, we will learn in the near future whether Mr. Berger’s recommendations have all party buy-in.
A point must be emphasized in relation to the wide geographic reach of areas traditionally and currently used by the Inuit of Canada. Since the signing of the 1993 Nunavut land claims agreement, there has been a tendency to equate Inuit issues with Nunavut issues; for example, however appreciated the federal government’s recent housing commitments, the Inuit of Nunavik and Nunatsiavut may be largely left out with no Inuit-specific allocations. They were completely left out of the federal government’s Northern Strategy.
Finally, I note Minister Prentice’s assurance to your readers that the Government of Canada is “… committed to protecting and promoting aboriginal and treaty rights domestically, and to working with other countries and indigenous peoples internationally.”
Consistent with that assurance, I look forward to working with federal ministers to restore Canada’s leadership role on human rights by taking a positive role in the adoption of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly later this year.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami