Sustaining the momentum of transformative change

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Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami exists to help Inuit achieve greater self-determination. It is a powerful expression of national Inuit unity that spans across imposed Canadian geographic and political lines. Because our work supports the creation of opportunities at the federal government level for Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the gains we have made nationally.

The four Inuit land claims organizations that comprise the ITK board of directors were created through political decisions within land claims agreement processes. The work of advancing land claims, setting up institutional structures that benefit Inuit, and now the hard work of implementing Inuit-Crown agreements, has required unyielding effort by so many Inuit leaders over the past 50 years. It is important to pause and reflect on these efforts, and to thank Inuit of previous generations whose work we build upon today.

While recognizing the primacy of Inuit land claim agreements, we also know that Inuit selfdetermination at the federal level cannot be measured by land claim agreements and implementation efforts alone. The federal government has more than 30 departments, each with its own interpretation of how Inuit fit within its administration and decision-making structures.

There is so much work to do to reform the way the federal government interacts with and perceive Inuit. This is why ITK advocated for and ultimately succeeded in brokering the establishment of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee (ICPC), a venue for joint decision making through which the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers sit with Inuit leadership to advance shared priorities.

One transformative change initiated and implemented through the ICPC process has been the way Inuit-specific funding is identified, allocated, and administered to Inuit. Before ICPC, Inuit were rarely contemplated in any federal funding allocations, which tended to be broadly directed toward Indigenous peoples, using funding mechanisms that did not respect Inuit self-determination.

Due to the vastly different legislative and policy differences between First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, Inuit often were not eligible for “Indigenous” funding. In the rare circumstances we were considered, Inuit-specific funding was distributed from the federal government directly to provinces and territories in which Inuit reside. This process did not support Inuit self-determination, and often left Inuit with no funding at all.

Through the ICPC process, there have been long overdue breakthroughs that now see federal funding for Inuit Nunangat distributed based on direction from the elected leaders of the four Inuit land claim organizations. Inuit can create partnerships and have more flexibility to allocate funds where they are needed most. Most importantly the process rightfully places decision-making for Inuit-specific federal funds in the hands of Inuit.

It is a system that makes sense and that works, both as a funding distribution mechanism and as a method of respecting Inuit selfdetermination. Federal budgets over the past three years have prioritized Tuberculosis elimination, housing, early learning and childcare funding, and funding for a sustainable Inuit health survey. Approximately $1.4 billion has been allocated to Inuit through federal budgets since 2016.

I hope the leaders who came before us are proud of these advancements. The path that early leaders of the land claims movement embarked upon decades ago is now leading us toward a world where Inuit and the federal government work together in a space built on mutual trust and respect. We have always worked tirelessly to exercise our right to selfdetermination; now governments — federal, provincial and territorial — can work with us in the spirit of respect and reconciliation to implement our existing rights.
Natan Obed
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami