Northern affairs minister makes a stop in Nunavut’s capital
“There’s good leadership here and we need to support that leadership”
Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal visited Iqaluit for the first time this week to meet with community leaders about the issues facing the territory and the work taking place to address them.
Among those issues were everything from climate change adaptations in the capital city to mental health and suicide prevention across the territory.
“It’s important for me as the first minister of northern affairs to reflect the priorities that I’m hearing from people that live here,” Vandal told Nunatsiaq News on Thursday, March 5.
“That’s what I’m here to do.”
Earlier this week Vandal met with Iqaluit city councillors Simon Nattaq and Solomon Awa to hear how the city is both measuring and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
In a news release published to coincide with the minister’s visit, the federal government said that since 2017, its Climate Change Preparedness in the North Program has provided $1.4 million to “support climate change resilient community infrastructure and housing in Iqaluit.”
Over a third of those funds have gone towards a permafrost study that will allow the Nunavut Housing Corp. to build 22 housing units in the city later this year with foundations designed to be more climate resilient.
In speaking with Nunatsiaq News, Vandal admitted that while there is some money flowing out of Ottawa as part of the Liberal government’s national housing strategy, there’s still not nearly enough, even when partnered with the Government of Nunavut.
“The gaps are so huge,” said Vandal.
“We have to try to find a way to get more money invested in affordable housing.”
While in Iqaluit, Vandal also spent time with Monica Ell-Kanayuk, the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, to watch videos made by local youth for Project CREATeS.
The initiative, launched by the Arctic Council’s sustainable development working group, focuses on suicide prevention among Indigenous youth in the circumpolar north.
“Losing one life is one too many,” said Vandal.
“We’re committed to working with leadership on the ground and organizations that live in Nunavut to try to prevent suicides and we’ve made investments in partnership with those organizations.”
The federal government also published a second news release on March 5 regarding money it’s investing into mental health services.
Indigenous Services Canada says that, to support mental wellness services in First Nations and Inuit communities, it has spent $425 million on a mental wellness fund this year. Among the projects funded with that money is a national Inuit suicide prevention strategy.
As well, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada also invested $240,000 in the CREATeS Project between 2017 and 2019 with an additional $170,000 coming this year, the news release said.
Vandal acknowledged that these issues have deep roots. “Let’s be clear, the reason we are here is because of generations of Canadian government policy that was racist.”
“I think it’s important the federal government accepts full responsibility and I think we’ve done that.”
Vandal said the challenge now is to work with Inuit communities to put a plan forward and make sure the federal government supports it.
“We know the solutions have to come from the communities themselves and we are there to help be a support to this community any way we can,” he said.
“There’s good leadership here and we need to support that leadership.”
An earlier version of this story said that Vandal toured Iqaluit with Deputy Mayor Janet Brewster to see how the city was adapting to the effects of climate change, when in fact he met with councillors Simon Nattaq and Solomon Awa due to weather. We regret the error.