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Fisheries and Oceans, Coast Guard create

new Arctic region

By Holly Lake. Published on Oct 24, 2018

Henry Larsen icebreaker in Allen Bay, Nunavut. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard are creating a stand-alone Arctic
region, inclusive of the four regions of Inuit Nunangat and dedicated to protecting and patrolling Canada’s
northern waters.

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson made the announcement Wednesday morning in the legislative
assembly in Nunavut. He was joined by Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), an
organization that represents more than 60,000 Inuit in this country.

“At its core, this announcement is about people,” Wilkinson said. “All of us gathered here know that
people in the North are living on the front lines of climate change. We’re already seeing the impact on
everything here.”
Whether it’s melting sea ice, ice roads that are no longer strong in the winter, melting permafrost causing
foundations to sink, or traditional food sources migrating differently, he said there’s a need to find local
solutions to help people adapt to these changes. A large part of that is partnering with Inuit to address
northern priorities.

With climate-driven change, the region is opening up to greater fishing, shipping and resource
development, and Wilkinson said his department and ITK want to ensure that Inuit and all Indigenous
peoples, as well as northern residents, are at the centre of decision-making in the region.
The creation of the stand-alone region will be implemented in phases, and has already begun with the
hiring of Gabriel Nirlungayuk as its regional director. A former deputy minister of the environment in
Nunavut, he will be based in Rankin Inlet. Neil O’Rourke will be the new assistant commissioner of the
Coast Guard, based in Yellowknife.

It brings the total number of Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) administrative regions to seven,
and the number of Coast Guard operational regions to four.

Wilkinson said this is part of the federal government’s commitment to advance reconciliation and pursue
a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples as part of a stronger way forward for the Arctic.

“We … had many failed policies (in the past) that have come from central agencies, from political leaders
in Ottawa who thought they had the answer,” he said. “We now know this method does not work, and I’m
here to reaffirm that northern priorities require northern priority-setting. Understanding the North
requires true knowledge of the North, and northern action requires northern leadership.”

Part of determining those priorities will come from work done to preserve and conserve ecologically
sensitive and important marine areas in the Arctic.

Wilkinson said by driving the creation of the new region, Obed “continues to remind us that the solutions
are here in the North.”
Obed told those gathered it’s been a long fight with this government, and its predecessor, to ensure it
understands and addresses the distinct concerns of Inuit through an Indigenous lens, but also a practical
policy lens.
The new region creates a practical and direct Inuit-Crown partnership with unity at its core, since it will
include the four Inuit regions in Canada, collectively known as Inuit Nunangat.

In the past, Obed said federal departments have been structured more in a “north of 60 approach,” which
meant Inuit regions were spread among departmental regions, and that Nunavik and Nunatsiavut didn’t
fall within an Arctic policy scope.

Inuit Nunangat comprises 35 per cent of Canada’s land mass and more than 50 per cent of its coastlines.
Of its 53 communities, all are near water and just about all are in the marine environment.

“The idea that we were split up between a central and Arctic region, a Quebec region, a Newfoundland
and Labrador region (within DFO), and that our interests were diffused within that space, did not allow
us to build on the strengths that we have in our co-management structures and also within the space of
people,” he said.

“We as Inuit share a language, share a society, share a world view. It only makes sense to create a policy
space that is centred in the Inuit reality.”
In co-management with the provinces, territories and federal government, Inuit are the singular holders
of land for about 3.5 million sq. km of this country — most of which is adjacent to the coast.

“We have respect for other Indigenous people within this space, and we have respect for non-
Indigenous peoples who are in this space, as well, and the interests that are communal to all Canadians,”
Obed said.

“But it is wonderful to be here today to talk about a space that is going to be grounded in the Inuit