Thank you. I will begin by giving a short background history of myself and the AAC. I will then provide you with a little bit of information on some of the work of the AAC and the connections to our community and the circumpolar regions.
I come from a small community in the northern regions of Yukon Territory. I was raised by my grandfather, Lazarus Charlie, in Old Crow, Yukon. Our community has been quite isolated. To this day, it is isolated. We are a fly-in only community.
When I was growing up, we were raised without any type of plumbing or running water, and the main staple of our diet was the Porcupine caribou herd. We had that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It provided our clothing. My grandfather was born and raised out on the land, and he worked with archaeologists for many years, helping them to understand the region in Old Crow.
I began my work with the Arctic Council back in 1999. At that time, I worked for a program called the northern contaminants program in Whitehorse. We would be provided the opportunity to attend some meetings of the Arctic monitoring assessment program, which is a working group of the Arctic Council. Basically, that's how we got started with the Arctic Council work here in Canada.
Over the years, we have really tried to connect our communities to the work of the Arctic Council through the working groups. It's been quite a long learning process for us. Our communities are very small and they have to deal with many issues.
One of the highlights of doing this type of work is being able to connect our communities with other circumpolar communities that have similar issues and stories. They have projects they share with us, and the results. Sometimes we try to emulate and connect with these different projects in various regions.
One of the first permanent participants of the Arctic Council to which we did connect was RAIPON. RAIPON is situated in Moscow. There are over 30 indigenous peoples that are part of RAIPON.
When we first made a connection, we were invited to one of their congresses. We brought some of our leaders to Moscow. For many of them, it was the first time they had travelled outside of their region. It really opened our eyes to the importance of making these connections and trying to do work in light of all the changes that are taking place in our region, like climate change.
There's a lot of in-migration of people from different parts of Canada and the world. We see new species coming into our regions, and everything seems to be going a lot faster, yet we are not quite keeping up with some of the changes.
Early on in our work we did have the opportunity to have some exchanges back and forth with RAIPON and with members of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. One of the highlights was working on an exchange between hunters and herders. Part of the reason we did this is that we were doing some work on IPY, the International Polar Year, and in our region one of the biggest issues is caribou. Our people wanted to know a little bit more about herding and the pros and cons of herding.
We shared some of the information back and forth between our people and got a broader and better understanding of why things are the way they are. I think at some point in the future that might be a possibility for us as the caribou numbers begin to go down because of climate change and because their migration routes might be changing, so we looked for solutions within our circumpolar neighbourhood.
In our region our people have always had lower levels of education, and our elders have always taught us that education is very important and that we need to continue moving forward. We have a lot more graduates, but at the same time it's still a struggle. I think, looking at different examples around the circumpolar region, that in Russia and in the Scandinavian countries we see higher levels of indigenous peoples with high levels of education.
We are members of the University of the Arctic. We try to make those connections between our educators, and that has been very helpful with regard to continuing outreach within the circumpolar world on Arctic Council issues.
We have brought people into our region to talk about the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although our people are not right on the coast, we see future possibilities for becoming more involved with some of the studies to provide information to our people about what is going on in that region. Sometimes it's quite unbelievable to smaller communities to know that there are discussions and decisions being made in the region. To us it seems that there are very limited opportunities, but we know that with the changing climate, all of this is changing, so we reach out to some of our neighbours within our own area to discuss these issues.
One of our members in northern Canada did say that in comparison to some regions, the populations in our region are quite small. How would we deal with disaster situations if something were to happen on our coast within reach of these smaller communities? How are we prepared?
We participated in some preparation exercises with search and rescue mock-ups. We brought communities together, our indigenous communities, to see what some of the issues might be.
Connecting all of this is the fact that other countries might be interested in the Arctic. We hear a bit about climate refugees. We hear about illegal substances that might be moving through Arctic waters and coming inland, and our people are not equipped to deal with such large issues. I've had the opportunity to attend a couple of meetings in Halifax. One was an Arctic security forum. They mentioned that in the north we have our Rangers, but our Rangers are not equipped to deal with such issues.
What we have noticed is that there has been some discussion about the Chinese “silk road”. We see an influx of companies moving into Canada or partnering with Canada or others around the circumpolar world. China is expanding, and our people still have concerns about some of the human rights issues they see on the news, yet we do have a large, growing Chinese community here in the Yukon.
We welcome them. We learn. Their cultures are quite similar to ours if you go back to their ancient history. Our people have never been one to leave others out.
However, at the same time we notice there's a huge influx of people into our regions. Maybe one of the future discussions we would need to have is around migration, in order to understand it better, to have more of an understanding of how many people are moving into the northern regions as opposed to southern Canada.
The reason, in part, is that our community members don't always see or don't look at personal property. When we're in a community, we have our land claims here in Canada, so everything is owned by everyone, including the land. When you come to more southern, urban areas, such as Whitehorse, all of a sudden you need to buy land. A lot of property is being bought by people from even outside of Canada. A lot of other people are moving in from other countries.
Just for the future, knowing that there's an increase globally in population, we need to look at these areas.
Working within the Arctic Council, I see the need for more information coming north. There's a need for some of these issues to be brought forward to our people. We need more information, better education, more research directed to international or circumpolar communities, and we need to have community-based opportunities to participate.
Education, I think, is going to be quite important, as well as dissemination of information to our communities. Right now we have limited possibility at the Arctic Council level. The Arctic Council does put out newsletters and it has a website, but there's still nothing better than having meetings or workshops in the north at our community levels to talk about some of these issues, to bring forth any future issues that experts are saying may come to pass.
One of the key areas for our people is the caribou herds. We see a lot of the numbers going down. The Porcupine caribou herd is still quite stable at the highest level it has ever been at, but the migration patterns are changing, which leads to food security issues in our communities. We do hear the same from some of the herders we have contact with—
Thank you, honourable members of the House of Commons.
It's been a while now that I haven't been around, but I have learned to enjoy being part of the overall system. At the same time, I have specific issues that I would like to address, matters that may be of concern to you and that are certainly of concern to the Inuit in the Arctic. That's probably one of the reasons I was inside the system and decided to get out of the system and do what I can from the outside to continuously raise the importance of issues that all of us face today, especially with the climate change that is taking place. The country is not the same as it used to be.
As you know, very recently, I think only about a week ago, we got hit with something that I have never witnessed in Canada before—the tornado that passed through Ottawa. It went through Gatineau and also Laval, which I witnessed when I went to Montreal.
That said, for many years I've been here in Ottawa. I remember the first time I came here was, I think, two weeks after I addressed the issue that is coming, which the Inuit already were living with—that is, climate change. We see every day that a big change has taken place. The Inuit in the north live with that on a daily basis. I thought I would just cover that as a preamble to what I have to say.
Good afternoon, honourable members. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I'm not sure whether I recognize some people here. I was going to say that I'm glad to see the familiar faces, but I see a very limited number of familiar faces here. Anyway, time goes by and changes take place. The new people come and go.
Honourable members, my name is Charlie Watt, as you know. Until the spring, as the chair mentioned, I was a sitting senator for the region of Inkerman, Quebec. I was on the job for 34 years, as the chair mentioned. I was Canada's only Inuit senator. I was not the only Inuit senator when I first came here. Senator Willie Adams was already here when I arrived in the Senate chamber. I did work with him on a number of different fronts. When he left, when his time to go came, then it was a bit of a lonely place for me as an Inuk speaking fluently in my own language. Willie was also fluent in this language. Willie was a great contributor towards what I have learned within the system.
As Canada's only Inuit senator, I focused on issues important to the Inuit. Arctic sovereignty is a subject that is very important to me and my people. The Senate financed several studies on this issue while I was here. As a matter of fact, the study that we undertook took us, I would say, maybe six to seven years. We concentrated on where the Inuit sit on this whole issue of sovereignty. We looked into domestic rights, which had been built for some years, and also looked at international rights. We came up with three sets of reports that we tabled to the government. I believe you have a copy of those.
The first one was done in the year 2012, and the title of it is “Inuit: Canada’s Treaty Partners or Free Agents?” You might be wondering why we added on the free agents. That indicates where we belong, who we are, who owns the Arctic, who lives in the Arctic, who relies on the Arctic, for social, economic, educational and cultural purposes. As you know, we have lived in the Arctic for many years, long before any other society came to Canada, and I think that is very well known.
When you're facing a subject like Arctic sovereignty, knowing that there is a great deal of interest from outside Canada in the international communities makes you nervous. It makes you nervous that there's going to be an influx of people who have money, political clout, moving in. At times when I see the requests that are made by various countries wanting to become observers, to get observer status within the Arctic Council, I say to myself, “Well, it's observer status now, but it will be more than observer status later on down the road.”
When people come in from different parts of the world and they have money, they will definitely have an influence over what happens to Canada. This worries me a great deal. On that account, I'm here to try to emphasize how important it is for the Inuit people to engage in this process. I see the rationale behind government's intention in terms of the way that they're engineering this and structuring it out to allow seven Arctic countries to be able to highlight what their concerns are, but at the same time they are also dealing with the continental shelfs and so on, by way of trying to extend their jurisdiction beyond their jurisdiction. I'm talking about the seven Arctic countries.
At the same time those people probably will be given an absolute power and the rights to do whatever they want to do if they do manage to succeed in establishing the boundary on the continental shelf. What does that mean to us? It means that the countries from the outside world that have an interest in extracting resources will have an access. They're going to have a large role to play within our society, definitely within the Inuit society, because they're going to be extracting certain things under our feet.
I also would like to mention that the Inuit in the north live not only on the land. This is probably hard to understand. How can any human being live on the ice? As you know, in wintertime when the Inuit are travelling, they travel by ice, by water, and by land.
I was able to get myself a very credible individual from Dalhousie University a few years ago, and we did the mapping of the Inuit trail from the northern Quebec side, which is called Nunavik, on up to Nunavut, on up to the Northwest Passage to Greenland, and also towards Alaska and Siberia. The part that's already completed is on the Canadian side, but we still have to push for countries like Greenland to work something out with the Danish government to be able to do the same thing—map out exactly how they live and how they travel, what they relied on. That information is very important, especially when you're going to be having people coming in from outside Canada, wanting to know. They're probably not even going to care too much about wanting to know. They'll be wanting to extract, take something, and take it home, and turn it into a dollar.
Honourable members, I have a tendency at times to go on and on, and I like to try to limit myself as much as possible, because I only have so much time.
What I wanted to say to you is to stretch it to the point is where hopefully everybody will understand. The Inuit are the backbones of Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic. Another fact, to tell you the truth, is some of my people from the Quebec side, from the Nunavik side, have been moved—the whole family, that is—by boat, by ship, to the Resolute Bay area, into the high Arctic with no facilities, no assistance. They were just literally dropped on the shore under the name of sovereignty.
Those were placed there by the Canadian government, and at that time, during the years of the 1950s, government mobility in the north were limited. They were basically represented by the RCMP at the time. The directions were given by the government, but the RCMP would have to take action to enforce certain things that were given to the RCMP by the government.
As you can see, we have reasons that we want to be a part of it, and not only to be a part in terms of knowing what's happening but also to have a full right to take part. If there is going to be something economically, which there will be, it should not only be going outside of our country. We'd like to tap into those resources, because we need to live, the same as everybody else. We have to survive, so the economy is very important to us.
Right now we have a traditional economy. There is not too much of an economy, other than the traditional economy. The traditional economy is to seek out and do your harvesting in the same sort of similar way that you harvest as a farmer. We don't have farms, but we do go out, whether it's on the boat, whether it's in the canoe, or whether it's on the plane or snow machine or whatever. In the old days it used to be the dog teams. That was the only transportation we had in the old days. That no longer exists. For your information, those dogs were also slaughtered in the early years by the RCMP.
What was the rationale behind the actions that were taken by them? Nobody really wanted to come out publicly and describe exactly why that happened. This isn't really related to Arctic sovereignty, but it's one of the issues that make me tend to believe that we have to be involved in the whole thing.
The Inuit have been present in the Arctic for thousands of years and were sovereign people long before Canada's existence, as I mentioned to you. Since time immemorial we have lived on the land and ice-covered water in the Arctic and used the resources of the land and water to grow as a people. We are deeply connected to not just the land, but also the Arctic Ocean and all the Arctic wildlife. The Inuit are the people who occupied marine areas. The Inuit live on the ice and hunt and travel across it.
Also, we have a different land claims agreement in each of our four land claims regions. The Inuit of Canada are taxpayers. Sometimes people have forgotten that the Inuit too pay taxes. We're not the same as first nations. We have been full-fledged taxpayers from day one up to now.
We always feel as Inuit that we have to also help to put an input into the bigger society with the people who live in the south. Hopefully, the fact that we decided to become taxpayers in the early years will be appreciated by Canada. For that reason, we are contributors to the needs of Canada. On top of that I'd just like to mention to you that before...after I was...no, not really.
Take a look at the Nunavik corporation that I represent, Makivik. We've done well as Inuit, but then again, we still need to do more. We've been able to succeed and have done quite well in the aviation sector. We own the two big airline companies. One is called Air Inuit and the other one is First Air. This coming Friday, we are about to merge another airline company into us, which is Canadian North. Those are the types of arrangements taking place, and we are quite capable of administering and running companies and producing economic opportunities on our own, which are very limited today.
When you look at the payload of goods that flow from the south to the north, it's a one-way flow in terms of economic viability. What's coming out of the north is very limited. For that reason, we are now going through the exercise on the aviation side of amalgamating the two airline companies. There is not enough room for two. This is one of the things we're doing, just to show you what we deal with. We know what we deal with.
When you look at the needs of the many companies that are trying to make ends meet, at times everyone doesn't benefit because there are limited economic opportunities. Let me go a step further.
Am I going a little too slow or spending too much time?
I would like to mention also that we do have access to an instrument, aside from Makivik Corporation, which is a national organization called ITK. It is also engaged with the Government of Canada on a Crown-relationship basis.
We also have another organization called ICC, the Inuit Circumpolar Council. I was at that meeting just a few months ago in Point Barrow, Alaska. We talked about a number of different issues that are related and are of concern to the Inuit.
We passed a huge number of declarations that we consider to be important and that need to be known by the outside world in order for us to survive. Climate change is a big factor. The food chain is being affected. The security of our food is being affected. We have to become a very heavily innovative people.
At times, we look around to see where we can get help. Maybe the only way that we can get help is if we make it explicitly clear that without money there's very little we can do, even in the north. We need money. Without money, there's very little you can do, as I mentioned.
There was another instrument that I helped build in the very early years, which is the Arctic Council. It allows seven Arctic countries to rotate on the chairmanship of that organization. Where are the Inuit? They have permanent participation. What does that participation mean? It's a token participation. They don't have a very clear voice in terms of being able to use it to get their points across. They're not decision-makers. Even when it comes down to their life, they don't make decisions. Who makes the decisions? It's the seven Arctic countries. We have no role. The only role that we have is tokenism.
That has to change. If we're going to get somewhere and close the gap between understanding what we're dealing with, that instrument has to change. We have to be able to learn to accept the permanent residents of the Arctic. It's their homeland; they have to be part of it. I was even wondering why they aren't calling on them to bring them in as a chair of the Arctic Council.
This is an issue I've been dealing with over the last 15 years. They're trying to make the point. I'm trying to get these different countries, ambassadors and so on, to understand. They do understand it, but they think, if we allow you to have access, what about the others?
Here we are dealing with the question of the Arctic. It's a very sensitive Arctic, as you know. It's a very special area. It's a last frontier. Inuit have lived there for thousands of years, before anybody else, so they must have some understanding of what the Arctic is all about. The rest of the world can learn from that. Now, they leave us on the side and never bother to give us an answer as to where we stand in regard to this whole development.
I'm going to come behind Senator Watt really quickly to re-emphasize the point that Canada's sovereignty does depend on Inuit. Inuit had effective occupation of the Arctic long before there was ever a Canada, or any of the Arctic states, and Canada needs this relationship with Inuit to be able to ground its sovereignty in land and ultimately in water.
That's done through the treaties. It is incredibly important to respect the treaties and the fact that the treaties create partnerships with Inuit. That partnership is a developing partnership. The treaties are not something that happened and are over; they create a whole range of management and ways to govern the Canadian north, and they require an updating.
One of the things that Senator Watt, now president of the Makivik Corporation, is looking at is updating the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to make sure that Inuit can properly govern and are able to go back to the way they used to govern in the north. This is a priority, and it's a priority across the north.
In addition, you're looking at the continental shelf and extending Canada's sovereignty to the north. Recognizing that there is this partnership and that the partnership has benefited Canada by allowing it to have this sovereignty into the Arctic Ocean, that sovereignty depends on our sovereignty over the land, and that sovereignty over the land depends on Inuit. That partnership needs to be able to extend into the waters of the Arctic and to extend to ocean governance internationally.
I want to emphasize that this has been a frustration for Inuit, because the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, does not recognize indigenous peoples' rights. That is a major concern. As Canada starts to look at its sovereignty in the Arctic over the extended continental shelf—and it will be making its submission to the UNCLOS commission that looks at those things in early 2019—it hasn't, to Makivik's view, properly consulted with Inuit or recognized Inuit rights or that Inuit are in a partnership. Makivik is looking for that type of partnership with Canada, and looking for even that recognition in the submission that's going to be made in 2019.
Further, that partnership should involve working with Inuit to look at protections for those deep seabed areas, for the oceans that will be affected, and also looking to partner to ensure that if there are benefits coming from the exploration and exploitation of those areas that Inuit benefit from that as well.
I do want to quickly point out—
There are many needs. Let me try to describe them.
What you are asking is twofold. One is down the road, and the other one is what we do now in coming up with a framework.
Are you talking about a framework in the same fashion that the Government of Canada looks at a framework in regard to dealing with domestic matters? We are comforted with that right now. There have been several attempts to describe what that framework is going to be. As far as I'm concerned, it's still very incomplete.
When you are asking me, I guess you were asking me more at the international level. I'm not sure whether nailing down a framework is going to do it. I really feel, rather than trying to come up with a framework, that you're going to end up discussing the issues and eventually maybe the negotiations. What are we really doing talking about a framework? Who are we preparing? Are we preparing ourselves, as the Inuit people, that we would be a lot better off if we come up with a framework, and that we know what the name of the game is, and what we can touch and what we cannot touch? I don't think that's the right way of dealing with it.
What you need to do is agree to recognize that we do exist, that we have rights, and that therefore we have the rights to have the discussion with our government. We have the right to exchange with our government. Is simply writing a framework just a way of saying, “Let's just delay that. Put that on the back burner. We'll deal with later?”
I don't see how a framework is going to help us. It will probably help the government. It could even be a disadvantage for us to try to live through a framework that is going to be established, for the domestic and also for the international aspects. A framework to me is what is already imprinted in the Constitution itself. We also have a land claims agreement. That is the framework. We have a role to play with the government with regard to the ocean. That is the framework.
What's wrong with what already exists and has been established over the years? Why do we need to create another one all the time?