Northern strategy could trigger change for the North

DIAND minister: “We’re directed by policy that needs to be changed”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

SARA MINOGUE

CAMBRIDGE BAY – The minister of the department of Indian and Northern Affairs had a hard time generating interest in the northern strategy during a visit to Yellowknife, Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit last week. Business and political leaders lined up to talk to him about more pressing issues, such as land claims negotiations and economic development.

Right now the northern strategy is still a vague idea that means little or nothing to most Nunavummiut, but in the coming years, it could bring big major change to Nunavut, and to the federal government departments that have traditionally had an interest in the territory.

For starters, there could be physical changes, said Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew, in an interview with Nunatsiaq News, attended by DIAND Minister Andy Scott, Nunavut MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell, and Steven Traynor, who is the acting regional director for DIAND in Iqaluit.

“When the Prime Minister announced the northern strategy on December 14, he said ‘when I say we’re talking about sovereignty and security, I mean actually having something on the ground,'” Blondin-Andrew said. “There are plans that speak to that.”

In addition to physical changes – such as new infrastructure – northern communities will also see changes in their role in Canada’s sovereignty and economy.

Blondin-Andrew used the example of Sachs Harbour, a tiny community on the western point of Banks Island. She described the hamlet as “inconsequential” now, but “totally critical” as an entry-way to the Northwest Passage that could eventually become a shipping route.

Northern affairs has traditionally been the business of just one department in the federal government, but that could change with the new northern strategy.

“[DIAND] could change dramatically,” Scott said.

The northern strategy includes several other areas, like trade, sovereignty, health, education, and even agriculture.

“The big opportunity that is available to the North right now as we do the northern strategy is to force all government departments to view what they do through a northern lens,” Scott said.

“My sense is that the northern strategy requires significant changes in a lot of national programs in order to make them more northern-friendly.”

Policy changes could flow as a result, as Scott hinted when discussing the northern strategy as well as other problems – such as land claims implementation – that have frustrated Inuit for years.

“We’re directed by policy that needs to be changed,” Scott said in Iqaluit last Friday. “That’s the answer.”

Paul Martin announced the northern strategy last December, flanked by several cabinet ministers. Since then, a framework document has been drafted and posted online at www.northernstrategy.ca.

At the same web site, the government is seeking comments and input through a questionnaire.

The federal government is also in the process of holding high level conferences on various parts of the framework, from sovereignty and security to governance and health.

Next, they will hold consultations with northern community members, though no schedule or timeline has been set.

“We’ll have a strategy,” Scott said. “We’ll probably even have a good strategy. However, if we really want to do something special, it will have to engage the people of the North in ways that are much more inclusive than anything we’ve experienced in the past.”

With files from Jim Bell.

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