OTTAWA — Inuit leaders have endorsed what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as a potentially transformative policy for people in the North.
After an Inuit-Crown partnership committee meeting in the national capital Thursday, Trudeau announced the Inuit Nunangat policy was endorsed by everyone at the table.
It recognizes Inuit Nunangat, an area that comprises much of the North and about 35 per cent of Canada's land mass, as a distinct geographical, cultural and political region.
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, noted at a Thursday evening news conference that Inuit are not part of the Indian Act and have a distinct relationship with the Crown, making a policy like this important to respect Inuit self-determination.
"Sometimes on the path to reconciliation we have days where there are apologies, days where there are large funding announcements that bring equity to Inuit communities," Obed said.
"And other times in this Crown-Inuit relationship, there are days where we create systemic change across the bureaucracy and across federal departments. And this policy allows for that to happen."
Obed said the policy will create a foundation of knowledge within the federal government and will underpin government decisions that involve Inuit.
He also said having Canada and Inuit aligned in this way "significantly enhances Arctic sovereignty."
Trudeau pointed to the modernization of Norad and upgrading the string of satellites in the North as areas where the government can work with Inuit and provide new economic opportunities.
"We are at a time of reflection around how we ensure Canada's continued sovereignty in the Arctic," he said, adding that in the past, that would have been done through a military lens.
Trudeau credited Inuit leadership with being "extraordinary and visionary" in developing better reconciliation.
Obed said measuring the policy's success may not be easy. But over the next five years, he wants to see Inuit Nunangat influence the way the federal government articulates opportunities for Indigenous Peoples.
"That Inuit considerations are thought of as a part of the process, rather than exceptional in the process," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2022.
Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press