Home Inuit Forum Addressing the Inuit Nunangat infrastructure gap

Addressing the Inuit Nunangat infrastructure gap

Most of the runways in Inuit Nunangat are gravel strips, including this one in Grise Fiord, Nunavut. © ITK/Jake Hanna

I spend a lot of my time talking with government about the infrastructure gap in Inuit Nunangat. The infrastructure gap is the incredible deficit of critical social and economic infrastructure in Inuit Nunangat in relation to southern Canada. For example, COVID‐19 responses that many people in southern Canada have benefitted from are generally not available to the same degree in our communities – think of public health care responses such as rapid access testing, educational responses such as online learning with broadband Internet access, transportation responses such as swift and inexpensive transport of goods to meet urgent needs, and housing responses such as space at home to work and study or isolate when sick. 

Decades of inadequate and inequitable public investment contribute to our high cost of living and impact our society and health in countless ways. Major investments to close this gap are one of the top priorities of the Government of Canada and Inuit leadership through the Inuit Crown Partnership Committee, and the most urgent fiscal deliverable in 2021. 

How did we get here? For too long, infrastructure spending has been directed with little regard for the needs and priorities of Inuit in our own homeland. For instance, Nunavut’s two deep water ports are not located in communities. (A deep water port is being constructed in Iqaluit, and it will be the first to serve an Inuit community when completed). Only three of Inuit Nunangat’s 51 communities have small craft harbours, severely limiting our access to food harvested from the sea and limiting our ability to utilize marine transportation between communities or travel to traditional camps. 

Most of our runways are gravel strips. Let’s take the Nain airport as an example. Nain is the largest and most northerly community in Nunatsiavut. Each week, approximately 20 flights arrive and depart Nain, carrying passengers, food, and other critical supplies. And yet the gravel runway has no lights. It handles only small aircraft (twin otters or smaller) and it is slowly sinking into the sea. In the winter there are no flights before 8 am and after 3 pm. 

A study by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards in 2019 quantified the glaring infrastructure gap between Inuit communities and other parts of Canada. The researchers found that Inuit communities have an economic infrastructure index score of 0.14 out of 1, compared with an economic index value of 0.81 for non‐Indigenous rural and remote communities in Canada. Meanwhile, the average infrastructure index score for southern Census Metropolitan Areas is 0.97. This gap is no surprise, but it does shed a harsh light on the longstanding and inequitable distribution of infrastructure investments between Inuit and non‐Indigenous remote communities in Canada. 

To help the federal government in its commitment to accelerate closing the Inuit Nunangat infrastructure gap, Inuit regions have identified 22 tier‐one priority infrastructure projects across various asset classes. These range from transportation and telecommunications to health and social development to energy, including the Nain airstrip, substantially increased internet and broadband capacity in Nunavik, cultural and heritage centres in Nunavut and an energy security project in the Inuvialuit settlement region. 

We need priority projects to be fully funded, and we need a permanent infrastructure funding mechanism through which we can build Inuit Nunangat infrastructure with strategic purpose over the long‐term. This approach is consistent with a number of shared priorities, including developing infrastructure expertise and capacity across regions, attracting Inuit capital and other private sector investment to Inuit Nunangat, and increasing Inuit self‐ determination under a joint shared reconciliation agenda. 

Natan Obed 

President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami 

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