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As Canadian citizens, Inuit take part in democratic elections and processes at the municipal, territorial, provincial, and federal levels of government. While we may become frustrated or disagree from time to time with decisions or positions taken by public governments, we accept these institutions as legitimate and know we can affect change by voting or sharing our concerns with elected leaders.

We also respect the right of elected officials to govern – whether they are the Prime Minister or provincial or territorial premiers or ministers – because we recognize the legitimacy of the democratic process that underpins their leader­ship.

Yet we are also an Indigenous people whose right to self-determination includes the right to maintain and strengthen our distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions while retaining our right to participate fully in the political life of Canada. The right to self-determination is foundational to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We exercise this right by maintaining and participating in our own Inuit democracy through Inuit representational organizations, whose functions are tailored to meet regional needs. Our Inuit democracy exists alongside the Canadian democracy; it is the political apparatus through which we assert and exercise our distinct rights as an Indigenous people in areas such as language, education, and land management.

The Inuit democracy begins with each and every Inuk enrolled as a beneficiary of our land claim agreements, who democratically elect leaders of the four land claim jurisdictions in the Inuvialuit Settlement Area, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut. These four leaders in turn elect the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president and the Inuit Circumpolar Council—Canada president, and provide these national and international leaders with their respective mandates.

It is a clear and concise democratic structure and process that we have utilized for decades, yet significant work is needed to ensure that our Inuit democracy is better understood and respected by public governments.

The right of Inuit to self-determination, most notably expressed through land claims agreements negotiated between Inuit and the Crown, are constitutionally protected frameworks that already recognize many Inuit rights. A significant challenge for Inuit is implementation of those recognized rights, consistent with the honour of the Crown. It is our legitimate expectation that federal, provincial and territorial governments will work with Inuit through our representational organizations and democratic structures to ensure our rights are upheld and our land claims agreements are fully implemented.

In addition to implementation of existing agreements, ongoing reconciliation and recognition of rights, work with the Government of Canada requires systematic recognition and redress for outstanding human rights violations. The process of reconciling our past with our future means imagining a new relationship based on respect for Inuit as rights-holders – not as stakeholders – and respect for Inuit Nunangat as our homeland.

Many governments in this country still dictate to Inuit when and how – if at all – our Inuit representational organizations will be engaged on matters that impact our people and communities. By doing so, they send the message that our society is of little to no consideration in the development and implementation of government law and policy, and that our own democratic processes – and consequently our right to self-determination – are not legitimate. The noted exception to this norm is the Government of Nunavut because it has, with each government mandate, sought to implement formal partnership and cooperation protocols with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Our Inuit democracy facilitates unity across Inuit Nunangat and enables us to speak with one voice on a variety of issues that impact our everyday lives. However, this unique ability to exercise our right to self-determination is only as meaningful as we make it.

My three-year term as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president concludes this summer, and as we prepare for an election, I hope Inuit will participate and make your voices heard. You can influence the voting of your region by expressing your views to your regional land claim leader. You can hold me and our Inuit democracy accountable for how we elect our leaders, and how our institutions function. In turn, we can take our combined strength and use it to improve our relationship with public governments across Inuit Nunangat and the prominence and respect accorded to our Inuit democracy in Canada.

Natan Obed
National Inuit Leader and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami