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Ten year old Mikijjuk Parr out with friends at about 10:15pm on a school night in Cape Dorset, Nunavut on November 9, 2010.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Canada's greatest claim to sovereignty in the North is the presence of the Inuit and other aboriginal peoples who live there.

They have, against all odds, survived on the frozen tundra for centuries - and they are committed Canadians. Any effort to assert Arctic sovereignty and security, including over the Northwest Passage, has to begin with a recognition of the critical role aboriginal people, and the Canadian Rangers, have played.

The isolation and sparse population of many communities in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut make it more difficult to deliver health and educational services. And yet Ottawa has a responsibility to ensure a minimum standard of self-governance exists, and that residents of the North can experience a quality of life that is at least comparable to that in the South.

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Unfortunately, this is not the case - especially in the eastern Arctic, where people have abysmal high-school graduation rates, high unemployment and some of the world's worst health outcomes. Nunavut is experiencing its worst TB outbreak in a decade, with at least 100 new active cases last year, a population rate 62 times the Canadian average. Part of the problem is overcrowded houses with poor ventilation. More resources are needed to target increased access to diagnosis and treatment.

Another festering problem is suicide. In Nunavut, the rate for 15- to 24-year-old men is 28 times higher than the national one. Exposure to violence, abuse and neglect in childhood are risk factors. Yet there is no mental-health treatment centre in Nunavut, and - so far - no suicide prevention program. Ottawa must support - and prod - the Northern governments in their efforts to address these ills.

The high cost of food is also a problem, highlighted this month by Arctic Bay residents who released photographs of Ocean Spray cranberry juice on sale for $38.99, a tub of margarine for $27.79 and a block of cheese for $19.49. The government does provide northern living allowances, but only to those who are employed. Ottawa has a new northern food subsidy program, designed to encourage people to eat healthier foods. Why then does a head of lettuce cost $6.75?

To accomplish its larger mission, Ottawa must address these fundamental lifestyle issues. The best way to protect Arctic security and sovereignty is to have healthy, educated Canadians living up there.

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