A new policy set to apply across federal government departments will fundamentally change how business is done with Inuit in Canada, says the president of a national advocacy organization.
In an interview, Natan Obed of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) said that the policy has been years in the making with Ottawa. ITK is a non-profit organization that represents more than 65,000 Inuit across Inuit Nunangat and the rest of the country.
The policy, which has the support of the Trudeau cabinet, is expected to be formally endorsed on Thursday at the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, which is designed to advance work on shared priority areas between Inuit and the federal government.
The committee meets three times a year and is chaired by Mr. Obed and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller. It held discussions on the co-development of the Inuit Nunangat Policy and also works to address social and economic inequities across the four regions.
The policy’s purpose is to support prosperity and well-being throughout Inuit Nunangat with a stated goal of socioeconomic and cultural equality between Inuit and all Canadians.
Inuit Nunangat means “the place where Inuit live” and is comprised of four regions: Inuvialuit, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and Nunavut. Together, the regions make up nearly one third of Canada’s land mass.
The policy document, Mr. Obed said, includes information such as who Inuit are, how they fit into the Constitution, terminology around Inuit homeland and some of the history of land-claim agreements.
The information is meant to offer background so when federal bureaucrats or departments consider Inuit specific issues, there is a “baseline of knowledge,” Mr. Obed added.
In concrete terms, Mr. Obed said the policy will mean that when an opportunity arises, such as a government program or funding allocation, there will be a guide in place for the way that work happens.
“We thought of this policy as a necessary evolution of the way that the federal government does business,” he said.
“It’s taken a long time because it’s a big change. It’s something that the federal government is now endorsing to work under that will require many different considerations, from here on out, for a number of different spaces.”
Mr. Obed said that since his organization was founded 50 years ago, it has been a struggle to educate the federal government on how to make better decisions.
The new policy will allow for determinations to be made without the organization having to intervene and educate on each occasion, Mr. Obed added.
“The amount of time saved and the opportunity for knowledge to be brought into a space that was devoid of knowledge is incredible in the implementation of this policy,” Mr. Obed said.
On a personal level, he said that much of his job involves educating federal ministers and senior government officials on the differences between Inuit, First Nations and Métis when it comes to legislation and policy.
“This [policy] shortcuts a lot of the conversations that either I will have or Inuit in general will have with the federal government,” he said. “Instead of having thousands of conversations about these very issues, we can point to this policy. And that just allows us to start at a more respectful and comprehensive space than we have in the past.”
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