Skip to main content
Speeches and Presentations

Remarks by Natan Obed at the Meeting of First Ministers and First Nations, Inuit and Metis Leaders

Unnusakkut. Good afternoon. I am the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national organization representing Canada’s Inuit.

Thank you to the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations for welcoming us to your territories and to the elders for your wisdom.

Thank you Prime Minister Trudeau, and the Chair of the Council of the Federation, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Dwight Ball for inviting Inuit to discuss this important issue.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is the national representational organization for Canada’s 60,000 Inuit, the majority of whom live in 53 communities spread across the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northwest Territories), Nunavut, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), and Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador).

We call our Inuit homeland Inuit Nunangat, and it encompasses roughly 35 percent of Canada’s landmass and 50 percent of its coastline.

Inuit Nunangat was one of the first areas in the world to experience the direct and local level impacts of a warming planet. Our relationship with our environment has already been profoundly altered.

Weather and climatic records continue to be broken in the Arctic, and it is estimated that our temperatures will rise at a rate of two to three times the rate in southern Canada.

Unprecedented rates of summer sea ice loss, reduced sea ice in the winter, ocean acidification, temperature and sea level rise, melting permafrost, extreme weather events and severe coastal erosion undermine our ability to thrive in our environment.

Rapid climate change is affecting our ability to access our traditional foods in a time when too many families are already struggling to put food on the table. Inuit hunters die each year from falling through thinning winter sea ice in our newly unpredictable, rapidly warming environment. The consequences are overwhelming.

In the midst of climate change, we must also consider the socio-economic inequities disproportionately facing Inuit compared to other Canadians.

Inuit have the highest rates of food insecurity of any Indigenous people in any developed country, along with low education attainment rates, and alarmingly high suicide rates.

Our communities lack the basic infrastructure taken for granted in southern Canada, including access to appropriate and affordable housing. Rapid climate change has been yet another layer of stress cast over our already stressed society.

Despite these challenges our people remain incredibly resilient and are dealing with climate change while also forging a path toward reconciling the wounds of colonization.

Our Indigenous rights and comprehensive land claims agreements create the governance space for all of our interactions with the federal government.

We are the reason Canada has sovereignty claims to the Arctic. We are a core piece of Canada’s political architecture.

This meeting signifies an important stepping stone in actualizing our rightful political space, and also in the development of a nation-wide approach to rethinking how we integrate climate action and sustainable development planning into a just and  balanced movement toward a low-carbon economy.

Inuit have a partnership role to play in the design, development and delivery of the national climate change strategy.
Our participation must not be qualified. Yes, we can inform all Canadians about what is happening in the Arctic, and yes, we can provide our Inuit knowledge to help understand climate change and mitigate against its impacts, but it is time to back up the rhetoric with a new, respectful, structured way to do business with Canadian Inuit.

For example, if the declaration from this meeting includes references to Inuit without full openness in the drafting process, then nothing has meaningfully changed.
Inuit have long understood and communicated that regional, national, and global action must be taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

We have worked for more than a decade not only to put a human face on climate change, but as active partners in efforts to understand and develop policies and actions to adapt to a changing Arctic.

For example Inuit worked to ensure that the first Arctic Climate Change Assessment, released in 2004, was the first international scientific assessment to include Inuit knowledge in its work.

Today, multiple international bodies recognize that human caused climate change is the largest and most widespread threat to human rights and the environment. Yet the Paris Accord did not include Indigenous peoples’ human rights in the operative text, which is not consistent with Canada’s stated intent to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I call on Canada to publicly state that it will implement its Paris Agreement commitments as if Indigenous peoples’ human rights were included in the operative text.
We continue to hold firm on our expectations for a just transition to a low carbon future, one that equips us with the resources and capacity needed to engage directly and actively in shaping this transition.

In order to do so and in keeping with our renewed Inuit-to-Crown relationship, Inuit must have an elevated role as partners with government in implementing Canada’s international commitments on climate as well as to address community-level challenges.

Inuit are engaged in a remarkable range of thinking, actions and social innovations on climate change adaptation and energy planning.

There are practical mutual benefits of government working in close cooperation with Inuit on this issue.

For example diesel is the largest source of black carbon in the arctic and it is the only source of heating and electricity in almost every Inuit community. This represents a significant economic and environmental burden that we can work together to address.

We look forward to playing an important role in fostering the collaborative and constructive partnerships that must drive the development of a national climate action strategy.

While the strategy is national in scope, we will continue to recognize that it is local action – people working on the ground with the most direct knowledge of climate change impacts – that will ultimately affect the transition to a low carbon future.

As the late former ITK President Jose Kusugak emphasized more than 10 years ago, we must work together to face the challenges of climate change, because our very way of life is at stake. He reminded us more than a decade ago that Inuit are taught as children to practice anijaaq, which means to “go outside to greet the day and elements first thing in the morning in order to live long.” It is the very spirit and intent of this kind of personal and grounded practice that will foster a just and equitable national climate action strategy and we look forward to doing our part.

Download PDF of  Vancouver Declaration Clean Growth Climate Change