This week, the eyes of the world will be on Canada's North.
Arctic ministers and indigenous leaders will gather in Iqaluit, Canada's northern-most capital city, for the ninth Arctic Council Ministerial meeting. As an Inuk from Nunavut and the chair of the Arctic Council, I am proud to host this historic meeting in my home territory.
In Iqaluit, we will celebrate the Arctic Council's achievements during Canada's two-year chairmanship (2013-2015), and chart a path for the council's future.
The Arctic Council is the most important intergovernmental Arctic forum, bringing the Arctic countries and indigenous peoples together to advance economic and social development and environmental protection in the region. Indeed, one of the strengths of the council is the inclusion of indigenous peoples at the decision-making table.
Iqaluit was the site of the first-ever Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, 17 years ago. So, this week, the Arctic Council is – in a sense – coming home.
Since I was appointed Minister for the Arctic Council in August, 2012, northerners from across the Arctic have made it clear to me that the well-being and prosperity of the people living in the North must be the top priority of the council. This is why for the first time in the Arctic Council's history we put the people element at the forefront of the agenda by making 'Development for the People of the North' the overarching theme of Canada's chairmanship.
Over the past two years, we have worked to ensure that the council focuses its efforts on action-oriented projects and programs that benefit northerners and improve our lives.
There are a number of initiatives we have developed over the course of our chairmanship that reflect this objective.
Our traditional knowledge is part of our cultural identity as northerners – it has helped indigenous peoples survive for millennia in the harshest conditions on Earth and helps us understand and adapt to changes in the region. The people of the Arctic are the world's true Arctic experts, so it only makes sense to ensure that their voices and experiences are heard. And so, we have developed recommendations to use traditional and local knowledge more consistently in the council's continuing work.
In order to have a healthy North, we need to have healthy people, so during Canada's chairmanship the Arctic Council also focused on the health of northerners. Being from the Arctic, I have experienced first-hand the changes occurring in the region and the opportunities and challenges that come with it. I see the resiliency and strength of our people and that gives me much pride and hope for our future. But I also know we have work to do to improve the mental wellness of our residents, particularly our youth, so that we can achieve truly sustainable communities.
In this context, the council has implemented a project that identifies and shares best practices with communities so that they can support the mental wellness of their residents. A key strength of this project was the inclusion of indigenous perspectives to ensure that programs and advice were both regionally and culturally appropriate. The outcomes of this work were highlighted at the Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium held in Iqaluit last month, and I am hopeful that this project and its benefits will have a lasting impact long after Canada's chairmanship ends.
Arctic residents also want to benefit from emerging economic opportunities unfolding in the region. For this reason, another key priority of our chairmanship has been the establishment of the Arctic Economic Council, or the AEC, which held its founding meeting last September.
The AEC is a forum for Arctic businesses – both small and large – to learn from each other. Its members will share best practices, standards and innovative solutions to promote responsible development in the Arctic. Through this Arctic-to-Arctic forum, businesses will be able to develop made-in-the-North solutions to problems that only exist in the region. Additionally, and this part will be key to its success, Arctic indigenous peoples are part of the AEC, which ensures that those living in the North are active participants in decisions affecting their communities.
During Canada's chairmanship, the Arctic Council's important environmental protection work has continued. Scientific assessments on pollutants in the Arctic have been completed and action-oriented work has focused on reducing black carbon and methane emissions in the Arctic, which will lead to local health, climate and economic benefits for northerners, and on enhancing regulatory co-operation to prevent marine oil pollution, which is crucial as activity in the region increases.
Over the past two years, the Arctic nations and the indigenous organizations of the Arctic Council have worked co-operatively to ensure the council remains effective, relevant and strong. In Iqaluit, with the world's eyes upon us, we will demonstrate how our work is making a difference, for northerners and for their environment.