Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Gary.
Welcome to both ministers. I congratulate both you and the government for dissolving that entrenched, paternalistic, colonial structure that I think everyone in this room recognizes was a challenge to deal with. I'm optimistic about the change in that approach.
No one will disagree with me that Inuit are indigenous people in this country. My question is for Minister Philpott.
When you talk about indigenous services, which specific services? There are some that specify first nations. For my benefit and knowing where to go, what specific services for Inuit and Nunavut will we deal with under the new and improved department?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Okay, thank you, Minister Philpott.
I guess one of the other things, and it was mentioned earlier in comments, is that under the land claims agreement, there is a public government established under that modern treaty. The territorial government is responsible for providing some of those services like health care, education, and housing. I'm just wondering, because you talk about working with Inuit leaders, is there also a committee that you're working on with the territorial government as well so that they're not being left out of the picture?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Okay, thank you. I'll go very quickly.
On your priorities, you mentioned transforming the way health care is delivered in first nations, and your mandate letter talks about how to deliver health services to indigenous peoples. I just want make sure—that may have been just an oversight—that Inuit and indigenous peoples are included in that.
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll start off by saying that this is a little less nerve-racking than the last time I appeared before this committee.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
Good morning. Thank you for allowing me to speak about the seal harvest, and in particular about the act respecting national seal products day
I would personally like to thank committee members, and Mr. Simms for his work in supporting this act, and for inviting me to be here to speak with you today. I would also like to take this time to thank the many members of Parliament, including some who are on this committee, who have spoken out continually in support of this act in the House of Commons.
Last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank former senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, who championed this initiative in the Senate in 2014, and whose hard work has led us here to this stage of the process today. Thank you.
The seal harvest is a crucial aspect of Canada's Inuit culture and livelihood, and it has been for thousands of years. The sad truth is that very few people truly understand the importance of this issue to Inuit. Many southern Canadians are aware of the seal fur market, and can understand how this could be beneficial from an economic standpoint. What people have difficulty grasping is the necessity of this harvest for sustenance for our communities.
Although the nutrition north program is well-intentioned, it's insufficient, and broken by the way. On that, I would like to say that I look forward to some positive changes coming soon.
Food insecurity is one of the biggest issues in Nunavut, where nearly 50% of the households experience it. What's worse than that, and deeply concerning, is that 60% of children are living in food-insecure households. Inuit rely on the seal for food. When a hunter returns to his community with a harvested seal, the food feeds his family and several others members of the community. It provides much-needed protein and vitamins, and allows the communities to survive. It also brings the community together, and this is the way it has always been.
Beyond the immediate use of seal as a food source, seal furs have traditionally been used as clothing to keep us warm in the winter months. Over the years, furs have become a commodity used to trade with merchants who travel the north, generating much-needed income for northern communities. The sale of seal products like fur, and the international commercialization of seal products led over time to economic sustainability, which allowed Inuit to continue to harvest seals and enjoy food security.
However, with the United States' Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, and later, the European Union's ban on seal products, the market for seal products has slowly declined. As a result, the cost of and demand for our products has been driven down, diminishing profits from trade, and making the market non-viable.
This industry is small. It's important that we work together to ensure its success.
There are exemptions in the European Union ban that allow for the trade of seal products produced by Inuit in Nunavut. However, Inuit in several other regions of Canada, particularly those in northern Quebec and Labrador, are so far not part of this exemption. I would really encourage new partnering approaches from sealing organizations with those in these regions, in an effort to include them as well in taking advantage of and maximizing the indigenous exemption in the ban.
By limiting our ability to trade and sell products in an international market, a crucial revenue stream has been diminished, and Inuit now struggle to afford being able to go harvest seals. Harvesting seals is expensive. You have to buy equipment, fuel for snowmobiles and boats, and ammunition for your firearms. It's not cheap, especially in the north. With these harvesting costs and the increased costs of living in Nunavut, the need to generate income from the seal fur industry is needed now more than ever.
European animal activists groups initiated the mission to end the seal fur trade, and in doing so, a major source of economic growth was lost. To this day, they present false information regarding seal populations and the harvesting of baby seals.
This is very upsetting because this fraudulent sales pitch is done in an effort to gain monthly donations and is currently being used now even in China, a potential market for seal products. In reality, the seal population, as we've heard, has tripled over the last 30 years, and the current population of between eight and nine million could double by 2030. Also, the harvesting of baby whitecoat seals, as we all know, is illegal and hasn't been practised for almost 30 years.
There is also a European seal cull that surprisingly continues. They like to keep that one quiet. Over several years thousands of seals have been killed off the coast of the United Kingdom in an attempt to protect their fish stocks. This cull is much different than what Inuit and Canadian harvesters practise because the seals are not harvested. They're just killed, left in the water, and wasted. As you can imagine, this is frustrating for Inuit and Canadian harvesters to hear as European activists, some from Britain, initiated the anti-sealing hunt movement. I find it somewhat ironic and completely hypocritical that this cull is done with the intention of preserving a food source.
On this topic, I feel it's important that government continue to conduct research on aquatic populations, and science-based approaches must be practised to ensure that an increasing seal population doesn't deplete cod, salmon, and shrimp populations in Canadian waters.
To close, I think it's extremely important that Canada support this bill to promote seal products and reverse the current negative mentality towards this market. Enacting national seal products day will reinforce Canada's support for its cultural coastal communities. Speaking on behalf of the people of Nunavut and as a person who is aware of the industry in eastern Canada, this recognition is extremely important. It will strengthen the relationship between Canada and Inuit. It can contribute to the revival of a much-needed source of income for the Inuvialuit and those who have relied on it on the east coast.
With that, thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Don. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for coming.
I want to start off by saying I fully appreciate the direction that this government and you are taking to move forward on the needs for indigenous people, including Inuit. Also, I'd offer a special thanks for helping save the Mamisarvik program here in Ottawa this year.
In your opening comments, you talked about a needs-based approach. I know in the north, not only in Nunavut but in the NWT and the Yukon as well, we're in the dire situation that we're in because of years of per capita funding. You mentioned in your comments, education and family violence protection, child and family services, housing, all those things. There's funding that's been announced for first nations, which is long overdue.
How do you plan on meeting that commitment for Inuit? We're not on reserve—the way I look at it, Nunavut is one big reserve—but everything flows through the Government of Nunavut. They provide those services to the population.
Maybe I can get an idea of how you plan on seeing that flow through to Inuit through the Government of Nunavut.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks again to everyone for coming here.
What you've heard this afternoon and tonight are a lot of the same things that Maatalii pointed out and that the indigenous affairs committee heard when they were here. It's true and it's recognized here that it's hard for Inuit to move forward. Basically, we're living in third world conditions. You have to have your basic needs met in order to move on.
As one of the guys asked, “What's more important: what I am going to eat, whether I am going to be safe, where I am going to sleep, or electoral reform and the date of the next election?”
Look at the idea of proportional representation. I think it was pointed out that no one from here is too supportive of that idea. If you look at the way funding has been doled out in the past, you'll see that it's on a per capita basis.
We have such a huge infrastructure deficit. We're very far behind as a result of that already. Per capita funding is something you can look at to see how it has affected us here. It would basically end up being the same in the electoral system.
From what I know in my previous capacity as a member of the Legislative Assembly, there were a couple of electoral reform and electoral boundaries committees struck to look at that. It may be a suggestion for your research staff to contact the Legislative Assembly to get those reports, as well as some previous amendments that speak to our Elections Act.
The goal of any election is 100% turnout. I think in my first one I had 101% turnout. That's when they had those old outdated lists that nobody wanted to go on.
There's been some really good stuff here. If you're able to get hold of someone at the Legislative Assembly, that could be helpful to you, especially given the unique challenges that we face here. That should be helpful to you in looking at some modifications to try, such as mobile polls. It might make it a little bit easier for you.
I'd like to thank everyone for coming and participating.
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