New ITK head blasts Tories

“Inuit and other aboriginal peoples, policies, and problems have been largely invisible…”


Mary Simon, the new leader of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, blasted Steven Harper’s Conservative government on Monday, during an address to the tenth annual Inuit Circumpolar Conference assembly, held in Barrow, Alaska this week.

“Inuit and other aboriginal peoples, policies, and problems have been largely invisible in core pronouncements made by the government. We did not figure to any great degree in the new government’s election platform. Aboriginal peoples are not one of five stated top priorities of the new government, and received only marginal reference in the spring Speech from the Throne and the May budget,” Simon said.

Simon, who replaced Jose Kusugak as leader of the national Inuit organization after a meeting July 7 in Inuvik, said Canada needs to make good of commitments to fix aboriginal poverty and cope with climate change.

At the top of her list of Canada’s unrealized commitments is the Kelowna deal, an agreement struck by Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government last November with aboriginal leaders and the13 premiers of the provinces and territories.

That announcement, worth $5.1 billion over five years, would have seen major spending on housing, health and education for aboriginal people.

“Long overdue, desperately needed investments to address poor social conditions for aboriginal peoples have been left hanging,” she said.

Simon also took aim at the Harper government’s decision to abandon the Kyoto protocol, an international effort to curb the production of greenhouse gases linked to climate change – although she acknowledged that under the former Liberal government’s leadership, Canada actually increased its emissions of greenhouse gases, doing worse than the United States, a country that never signed the Kyoto accord.

“Its repudiation by the Harper government has been dispiriting in itself,” Simon said of the Kyoto accord. “More dispiriting is the reality that no coherent alternative plan has been put forward. In addition, there have been, in record months, most unwelcome cutbacks in environmental programs related to reduction of energy consumption, climate change.”

“Meanwhile, as we all know, evidence of global warming mounts.”

Simon also jumped on the Harper government for voting against the United Nations’ draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which she described as the product of “more than 20 years of careful work.”

She dismissed the Conservatives’ defence that the declaration would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as “an odd and unsupported suggestion.”

And Simon said she’s concerned the Conservatives have not yet taken action on the report drafted by the esteemed judge Thomas Berger on how to fix Nunavut’s education system and under-representation of Inuit in government.

Government of Nunavut, Employment Opportunities

The Berger report calls for the development of a fully bilingual school system, to meet obligations in the land claims agreement to make Inuktitut the working language of government. It also urges the federal government to immediately spend an extra $20 million a year to train Inuit for government jobs.

Simon also accused the federal government of showing “no reliable indication of willingness” to reform its land claims implementation policy, which she said has remained unchanged since 1986.

And she said Inuit governments remain underfunded and need a bigger slice of royalty revenues in order to deliver health and education services, to provide more reliable support for hunters, and to support Inuit culture.

Simon said the amount of federal funding for Inuktitut is a fraction of what’s spent on French and English per capita. And Inuit in the Arctic still don’t have rights to fish quotas in most of their adjacent waters, unlike southern jurisdictions.

“Finally, the challenges of Inuit who live in southern urban centers remain largely unnoticed and unaddressed outside the Inuit community,” she said.

Simon has held a number of high positions. In the past she has served as Canada’s Arctic ambassador, as well as president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

She said the course of her career feels like one big circle, since a group of Inuit from around the circumpolar world, including herself, met in Barrow in 1977 to form an international Inuit organization, which would become the ICC.

“I am proud to say I was part of the Canadian delegation. The ideals and goals we set then changed and shaped my life,” she said.

“I know that together we have accomplished more than any of us dreamed. Our overall living conditions have improved and our political and constitutional rights recognized. But yet, in so many ways we have come full circle, back to where we started.”

“Now governments recognize our rights,” she said, “but how often do they respect them?”

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