Professional and Leadership Capacity for Investment and Self-Determination: Good Governance in Canada's North (Part 2)

5 minute read

“There is no other region of Canada that has experienced the breadth and pace of geo-political development in the last 50 years than the Arctic. Capacity and expertise issues do continue to impact certain situations, but this can be addressed through smart, adaptive policy processes.”

- Mary Simon, A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model, 2017

When Canada’s North succeeds, Canada succeeds. Canada’s new Arctic and Northern Policy Framework (ANPF), released in September 2019, is intended to present a “shared vision of the future where northern and Arctic people are thriving, strong and safe,” and a roadmap to guide federal investment in the priorities identified by northerners. But the challenges facing Canada’s north and its residents are daunting. As noted by the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, then Minister of Northern Affairs:

For too long, Canada's Arctic and northern residents, especially Indigenous people, have not had access to the same services, opportunities, and standards of living as those enjoyed by other Canadians. There are longstanding inequalities in transportation, energy, communications, employment, community infrastructure, health and education. While almost all past governments have put forward northern strategies, none closed these gaps for the people of the North or created a lasting legacy of sustainable economic development.

One of the key contributors to the ANPF was the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national representative organization for the 65,000 Inuit in Canada, the majority of whom live in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland. The ITK’s submission to the ANPF detailed the social and economic inequity between Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat and other Canadians, including:

  • The infant mortality rate per 1,000 births is almost three times that for Inuit infants (12.3%) than for Canada as a whole (4.4.%)
  • Crowded housing is experienced by nearly six times as many Inuit (52%) as compared to Canadians generally (9%)
  • There is greater than a 10-year gap between the projected life expectancy between Inuit in Canada (72.4 years) and non-Indigenous people in Canada (82.9 years)
  • Only 47.5% of Inuit in Inuit Nunangat are employed, versus 60.2% of all Canadians

As stark as these statistics are, perhaps the most telling indicator of all is the fact that only 34% of Inuit aged 25 to 64 have earned a high school diploma, versus 86% of all Canadians. As Mary Simon noted in her 2017 report on consultations throughout the North, A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model, “There can be no doubt that the road to healthy, empowered citizens in the Arctic begins and ends with education.” And while everyone agrees that boosting support for K-12 education is a top priority, it will take many years, if not decades, for those numbers to reach par with the rest of Canada.

For its part, the ITK has called for a new approach to federal programming in Inuit Nunangat that would see Inuit exercising greater self-determination in decision-making and program management. At the same time, the ITK recognizes that greater self-determination alone will not close the gap; improving socioeconomic outcomes in the North will require significant investments in health, education, economic development and infrastructure. But because of their current socioeconomic status – particularly with respect to education outcomes – the Inuit public and private sectors don’t presently have the capacity to make the most of those investments. It’s a classic ‘Catch-22.’

In the interim, as recognized by the ITK in their submission to the development of the ANPF, effectively exercising Inuit jurisdiction over federally funded programs under an Inuit Nunangat policy framework will require investments in the professional and leadership capacity to do so. The same can be said across the North: from the public governments of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, to communities and service delivery organizations, and the Inuit private sector. Consultations on the development of the ANPF identified Inuit regional organizations in particular as a priority for investing in professional and leadership development. This is consistent with Mary Simon’s observation that “a successful model of program delivery is ensuring organizational and leadership capacity is developed, nurtured and adequately supported."

Achieving robust organizational and leadership capacity will not come without its challenges. Since its founding in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) has provided professional and leadership development training to thousands of adult students from the public and private sectors. For the past five years, it has provided professional and leadership development training to hundreds of employees in the Government of Nunavut, many of them Inuit. We have witnessed first-hand the challenges – socioeconomic, cultural and political – for Inuit who are looking to upgrade their knowledge and skills to contribute to a better future for themselves and their families. But we’ve also witnessed many personal successes that bode well for the future of the Arctic.

Southern-based organizations like the IOG have been criticized for flying-in to Inuit Nunangat for short-term consulting assignments and leaving with their per diems in hand without truly understanding the challenges faced by Inuit or contributing to long-term capacity-building. This is a legitimate concern. But it is our hope that, in the not-too-distant future, Inuit professional and leadership capacity will have built up to the point where ongoing training requirements can be met by Inuit-led, owned and staffed organizations.

In fact, it may be worth exploring the creation of an Inuit-led organization along the same lines of the IOG: An organization that provides research, advisory, thought leadership and professional and leadership development services, supported by a network of Inuit academics and other subject matter experts, teachers and facilitators, and leaders from the Inuit public and private sectors. This model has proven very effective in supporting professional and leadership development, and good governance.

It is true that the Arctic has experienced rapid political development in the last 50 years, but unfortunately its socioeconomic development has not kept pace. The Inuit have made clear their vision for a healthy, prosperous and self-determining Inuit Nunangat. But exercising that jurisdiction, and making the most of the substantial investments required to achieve that vision, will require more than just adaptive policy processes; it will require the interim support of outsiders – both financially and professionally – if the Arctic hopes to close the socioeconomic gap in the next 50 years.

Whatever path Inuit choose to take, the IOG is committed to supporting professional and leadership development in the North for as long as it is welcome.

About the author

Ross Holden

Ross Holden

Vice President - Indigenous Governance & Self-Determination

Ross Holden has over 20 years experience in the provision of policy and communications advice, research and analysis, program development, stakeholder consultation, strategic planning, community development, and inter-governmental relations. He has provided advice and support to senior management and operational staff at a number of key federal departments responsible for Indigenous policy and programming, including Indigenous Services Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, as well as Indigenous communities and organizations. Between 2013 and 2017 he was a Senior Engagement Advisor, Aboriginal Relations at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, responsible for engagement of First Nation and Métis communities throughout Ontario on the Adaptive Phased Management project. Since joining the IOG in 2018, he has played a key role in various projects related to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the First Nations Governance Project, a groundbreaking collaboration between the IOG and the First Nations Financial Management Board.

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