Lori Idlout: Engaging with Indigenous Communities is the Best Way to Keep the Arctic Secure

An Interview with Nunavut MP, Lori Idlout

“The discussions that I’ve heard to date indicate to me that the more imminent threat to the Arctic is climate change. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its potential to expand to the Arctic does not feel as imminent.” 

Engaging with Indigenous Communities is the Best Way to Keep the Arctic Secure

How do Northern Indigenous communities, or perhaps constituents you have spoken to, in the Arctic conceive of Arctic security – what does security look like to them, and how might the Canadian state, broadly, and northern Indigenous peoples reconcile different conceptions of security as they work together to address various challenges in the Arctic?

My constituents believe that Arctic security is very important, especially since Canada uses the Arctic to discuss or secure sovereignty. I think that my constituents have definitely felt they’ve been ignored as possible key decision makers when it comes to how security could look like in the north. There have been ideas that have been shared with me about how improvements can be made. Something that my constituents bring up to me all the time is the need for more investment for the people that live in the Arctic, as well as for infrastructure to support Arctic communities. If we are to be fully engaged in keeping the Arctic secure, we need improvements in investments. We’ve seen too many gaps for too many decades. There hasn’t been enough investment in housing, as an example. I’ve had had many residents come to me saying that they’ve seen traffic in their waters, so we need to ensure that there’s better investments in the Canadian Rangers—especially search and rescue teams.

Inuit are very proud to be Canadian Rangers because they know that they are contributing to the security of Canada. However, Canadian Rangers do not get the same investments that are put into military. They have to rent their own equipment. When they rent their own equipment, the cost of that rental is not up to par with the increase in cost of living. If a Canadian Ranger, who is a volunteer, uses their snowmobile, for example, they have to take care of potential damage costs. It’s quite difficult to do repairs when there are no regular repair shops. It is also very difficult to order parts to repair snowmobiles. We need to improve the ability of Canadian Rangers to do their part by ensuring that they have the capital they need to keep the Arctic secure.

How do inhabitants of the Arctic feel about further development of the Arctic that will occur as a result of climate change and opening sea lanes? Is there optimism about how such development could impact local communities? Are there concerns that it could be disruptive for Inuit and Indigenous communities?

There is no one single view. I am intimately aware of what’s going on with the Mary River project, for example, that is operated by the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, and the impact that project has had on communities like Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Igloolik, and Clyde River. They’ve already experienced a lot of damages, and changes to the environment. Wildlife behaviour has also been impacting their ability to rely on subsistence living. There’s a lot of opposition to the expansion of the proposal made by Baffinland. At the same time, I’m hearing from my constituents that there are no other places to be gainfully employed. Some people appreciate the project because there’s nowhere else to work. These are the two competing views—the ability to work or protect the environment. It’s such an unfortunate dichotomy that we have to live with at this point when climate change is so obvious—in all parts of the globe.

I’ve had elders talk to me about the changes that they’ve seen in their lifetime, the changes to the conditions of the snow, the changes in the atmosphere—they’ve seen all these changes that are making the environment around them more unpredictable. It impacts their ability to teach their grandchildren about their environmental conditions because there are so many changes going on. It has had a cultural and physical impact. It also impacts the ability of communities to hunt and retain a diet that we’ve relied on for generations, and it’s so unfortunate that all these changes are not being better protected. I hope that with my work at Parliament that I’ll be able to try and make some changes that will better protect and benefit my constituents in Nunavut.

How do Northern MPs and leaders, including yourself, feel about the prospect of increased military presence in the Arctic to protect the region’s sovereignty? Could it provide much needed infrastructure to the region?

It forces me to be hopeful. Having that increase could contribute to our economy. It could increase the understanding of the conditions that we’re in. I think that the military’s presence could be great. They can become great ambassadors for the Inuit and for the communities living in Nunavut and ensure that more Canadians realize just how unique and expert Nunavummiut are about the Arctic, and why there needs to be an equal relationship between the military and the indigenous peoples. It is important that the military doesn’t just jump in with their own processes and decision making separate from indigenous peoples, whose lives are being protected. It has to be a respectful relationship that allows both peoples to protect the Arctic in a way that fosters positive relationships.

How do Northern MPs, leaders, and Indigenous communities perceive the potential challenges posed by Russia and China in the region, particularly following the War in Ukraine, and considering how contested and competitive the region will become as climate change facilitates easier access to the region?

The discussions that I’ve heard to date indicate to me that the more imminent threat to the Arctic is climate change. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its potential to expand to the Arctic does not feel as imminent. They hope that, given all the changes that we’re being forced to experience, investments will increase towards the people that live there, as well as the infrastructure that they live in. Iqaluit has been issuing water boil advisories, because of the poor infrastructure, Rankin Inlet is not able to expand because of the shortage of water, and the lack of access to water that is all around them, because federal investments aren’t coming in. At the forefront of people’s minds, is the need to invest in the people so that the people can secure against threats in the Arctic.

I just want to make sure that I bring home the point that indigenous peoples and people who have lived in the Arctic for generations know the lands, and know the Arctic, and because of their expert knowledge, they should be relied upon when it comes to keeping it secure and ensuring that we’re able to deal with threats that might come our way. Keeping us engaged, informed, and part of the decision-making process will be the best way to keep the Arctic secure.



Lori Idlout MP


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