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‘Nothing about us without us’: Northern premiers address Arctic Circle forum

Trio lead panel on sovereignty and security in Canada’s North
Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, left to right, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, and moderator Dr. Whitney Lackenbauer, Canada Research Chair in the Study of the Canadian North at Trent University at the Arctic Circle forum in Nuuk, Greenland are shown in this handout image provided by Government of the Northwest Territories as they take part in a panel discussion on Healthy Communities. Canada’s three territorial premiers stressed the need to invest in northern communities and include northerners in decision-making at an Arctic Circle gathering in Greenland that concluded earlier this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Government of the Northwest Territories

Canada’s territorial premiers stressed the need to invest in northern communities and include northerners in decision-making at an Arctic Circle gathering in Greenland that concluded earlier this week.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok attended the Arctic Circle forum in Nuuk, Greenland, from Aug. 27-29. It was the first time all three addressed the event.

Cochrane said they shared the message: “nothing about us without us.”

“It’s been too long that people have decided the needs of the North without consulting us enough and that’s not appropriate,” she said. “We live here, we have the most at stake here and so we need to be part of those conversations.”

The three premiers led a panel on sovereignty and security in Canada’s North, where they emphasized the importance of investing in housing, health care, education and infrastructure.

“To be able to take that parallel message on an international stage was extremely important as the Arctic Circle forum tries to kind of grapple with and understand where do we go from here post-pandemic?” Silver said.

He said those interested in investing in the North or in tackling climate change should be concerned that northern communities have the resources they need, such as equal access to health care, in order to thrive.

International concerns about Arctic security have increased as new shipping routes open in the Arctic due to melting sea ice — and have intensified further since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

“The attention of Arctic security has really brought attention to the issues that we’ve long lived with,” Akeeagok said, noting the infrastructure gap between Canada’s North and South.

“In order for Canada to have a strong stake around the world, investments have to be made in our communities so that they become as vibrant as they can be.”

Akeeagok pointed to Grise Fiord, the northernmost community in Canada where he grew up and where the federal government forced some Inuit to relocate in the 1950s.

“The investments the federal government hasn’t made for having created that community, along with Resolute — it’s something that we all have to learn from.”

Akeeagok said seeing the growth and infrastructure in Nuuk, such as seaports and housing construction, was an “eye opener” for what is possible for Arctic communities in Canada.

Cochrane said there’s a need for international co-operation on shared challenges such as climate change, geopolitical concerns, and a lack of sustainable architecture compared to the south.

“We cannot think in isolation. We do need to work together — not only the Arctic region of Canada but circumpolar,” she said.

“All of us need to be concerned and we all need to be at the tables and talking about it.”

Akeeagok said he’s optimistic about relationships that were forged at the forum. He signed a memorandum of understanding with Greenland Prime Minister Mute B. Egede, recognizing their shared interest in culture and arts, education, travel and tourism, marine infrastructure, fisheries, and green energy.

Akeeagok said allowing residents to travel between the jurisdictions is at the heart of the agreement.

“The relationship we have has always been very strong and very deep, because it’s not just in the boundaries that we see,” he said. “It has connected to who we are, whether it’s through our culture, our languages.”

—Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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