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January/February by above&beyond

It feels like it has taken a while, a long while — especially so to those who call the North their home and those involved in one or more of the many community, territorial, or national organizations, governments, or policy advisory groups dealing with northern issues — for substantive interest in the Arctic to take hold in the wider public domain, interest enough to command serious engagement and debate calling for the creation of a new northern era, a new way of doing things, a new approach to the rapidly changing economic, environmental and social challenges facing the Arctic.

Up to and including the final decades of the 20th Century, those enthralled or engaged in all things Arctic were comparatively few. Most people were understandably pre-occupied with embracing southern concepts of urban, suburban and rural opportunity, development, and renewal. This was especially true during the mid 1900s post Second World War era.

A great deal has been accomplished since. New models for governance that promote indigenous participation in the evolution of Canada’s northern regions, now numbering five (Yukon, NWT, Nunavut, Nunavik and Labrador), continue to mature and take hold in mainstream thought and social development.

International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 (celebrating 125 years since the inception of IPY) provided a further catalyst for more robust exchanges of scientific information and ideas promoting national and global discussion on the Arctic. Topics such as climate change and Arctic resource management and sustainability have leapt to the fore.

Indigenous groups across the circumpolar world and Inuit, First Nations and Métis here at home are now finally able to add their inherent knowledge and ideas to the discussion. In 1999, Inuit, after close to 30 years of lobbying and negotiation, finally achieved full territorial status along with the right of self-governance and control over a vast swath of northern Canada with the creation of Nunavut.

In Nunavut, the concept of Qaujimajatuqangitat (IQ) — a compendium of Inuit traditional knowledge gained and passed down through the generations — is now being applied in areas of social and economic development, governance and education, based on the principle that better, far more relevant and palatable solutions to some modern issues can and will flow out of closer adherence to ancient Inuit wisdom. Concrete engagement, even activism too, are today more acceptable, assisted by a burgeoning social media component and information exchange conferences and think tanks that draw on expertise from a broad range of disciplines, governments, across academia and circumpolar governments.

Last January, for example, The Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, at the University of Toronto’s prestigious Munk School of Global Affairs, in association with the highly respected Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation (WDGF), hosted a day-long Arctic sovereignty and security forum to present the results and attendant expert analysis of the Ekos Research Associates poll jointly commissioned by the Centre and the WDGF titled, Rethinking the Top of the World: Arctic Security Public Opinion Survey.

The opinion sampling of some 9,000 respondents in Canada and across the balance of the eight member states that form the international Arctic research and advisory body known as the Arctic Council (Canada, United States, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Greenland, Iceland, Faroe Islands and Finland) polled the general populace of those nations on a wide spectrum of concerns in order to broadly quantify the level of general knowledge of circumpolar issues and gauge personal views and attitudes. One noteworthy (and telling) aspect of the Ekos survey’s methodology for this particular study was relative to the specific questions posed to Canada’s respondents (only).

For the purposes of their survey, Canadian respondents were split into two distinct geographic groups — those living in the North and those living in the South. The response aggregates of each group ultimately enabled researchers to define a clear comparative between similarities or differences in opinion on a wide range of topics including not only sovereignty and security issues but also a broad range of social concerns.

Concerns about Arctic sovereignty, security, the environmental impacts of climate change, education and social development and the ever growing resource demands of world economies.

Destined it seems to forever be a fragile, changing frontier, the North needs to quickly grow capacity and capability, not only militarily, but more urgently in the realm of education, opportunity and the ongoing development of healthy and sustainable economic and social programming that will prepare people for change within the context of their own self-determination and the needs and expectations of future generations of northerners, non-indigenous and indigenous alike.

Working groups on a wide variety of topics ranging from military and security needs to enabling greater indigenous participation in Arctic issues, facilitated broad discussion and opened the door to an appreciation that Canadians, of course, are not entirely alone in having to come to grips with the many challenges or threats all northern nations are facing.

Looking beyond the robust protectionist tone in Canadian responses the survey exposed — not only in the answers of respondents, but in our national media too — further analysis clearly indicates that we and neighbouring Arctic nations are in the main fair-minded, level-headed and essentially altruistic when it comes to our many concerns about Arctic sovereignty, security, the environmental impacts of climate change, education and social development and the ever growing resource demands of world economies.

Destined it seems to forever be a fragile, changing frontier, the North needs to quickly grow capacity and capability, not only militarily, but more urgently in the realm of education, opportunity and the ongoing development of healthy and sustainable economic and social programming that will prepare people for change within the context of their own self-determination and the needs and expectations of future generations of northerners, non-indigenous and indigenous alike.

Working groups on a wide variety of topics ranging from military and security needs to enabling greater indigenous participation in Arctic issues, facilitated broad discussion and opened the door to an appreciation that Canadians, of course, are not entirely alone in having to come to grips with the many challenges or threats all northern nations are facing.

Looking beyond the robust protectionist tone in Canadian responses the survey exposed — not only in the answers of respondents, but in our national media too — further analysis clearly indicates that we and neighbouring Arctic nations are in the main fair-minded, level-headed and essentially altruistic when it comes to our many Though our own attitudes and views may differ slightly due to geography, culture and circumstance, the door has never been so open to foster inclusive and enlightened discourse.

That our own concerns about the environment and social responsibility here at home are generally shared by many of our Arctic neighbours and allies gives real hope for the future. The Ekos survey also left no doubt whatsoever that in the minds of average Canadians, the North is an integral part of our heritage and our identity as a nation.

With no let up in sight of climate change’s relentless assault on the North, developing new and effective social and economic frameworks for the circumpolar regions call for ongoing dialogue, extensive consultation, goodwill and action on the parts of communities, governments and the corporate sector. The Arctic deserves our nurture. It deserves our respect, support and protection.

Northern indigenous groups are now at long last able to participate on a more equal footing. They are sought-after partners in shaping the evolution of their homelands and Canada as a whole. They are actively involved, their voices are strong, they are listened to. From them new organizations and social programming promoting better more knowledgeable approaches and beneficial alignments in the management of social, economic and political issues dealing with future sustainability and responsible stewardship are thriving here at home.