Thank you very much for the invitation to appear today. I will take a few moments to summarize the major themes of our written submission, and then I would be more than happy to take your questions.
As many of you know, Nunavut, the Inuit homeland in Canada, makes up approximately one-third of Canada's land mass and half its shoreline. This area, governed by a set of five modern, constitutionally protected treaties, contains much of Canada's non-renewable and other natural resource potential. The Government of Canada is relying heavily on resource development projects to propel economic growth in Canada, including increased wealth, expansion of employment, and improved levels of productivity. In the Arctic, such projects must strike an appropriate balance between economic development, social development, cultural continuity, and environmental protection, and they must actively engage Inuit.
This is starting to happen, particularly in Nunavut, where I'm from. But the federal government has the power to enhance Inuit contributions to Canada's economic performance. The key is education and training. Parliament and the federal government have the authority and capacity to take far-reaching and imaginative measures to bring about greatly improved Inuit education and training outcomes. This authority and capacity is drawn from a variety of constitutionally anchored sources, including Parliament's power to make laws in relation to Inuit under section 91.24 of the Constitution Act, 1867; special federal powers in the territories over such things as marine areas, fisheries, and cross-boundary matters; and Parliament's unqualified spending powers. A radical improvement in Inuit education and training will not be achieved without the use of targeted federal funding. The scope of what is needed is large.
In 2006, a federally appointed conciliator reported during the process of updating the implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement that even a five-year effort aimed at making modest headway in Inuit participation in the Nunavut workforce would require $100 million in federal funds. That projected undertaking was just in relation to Nunavut. Other regions of Canada have similar needs, and existing funding is simply not enough to meet these needs.
The Inuit population in Canada is much younger than the general Canadian population. While fertility rates are gradually declining, the number of Inuit in the prime employment cohort aged 20 to 60 will show steady growth in coming decades. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. It is a challenge in that public sector policies and private sector initiatives need to be fashioned so as to generate adequate employment and other economic opportunities for Inuit, particularly young Inuit joining the workforce for the first time. It is an opportunity in that successfully attracting and sustaining optimal Inuit participation in employment and other economic opportunities can contribute in tangible and important ways to both Inuit economic self-reliance and Canada's overall economic performance.
There is one other aspect of Arctic demographics that needs emphasis. This aspect is effectively summarized in the text of the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resource Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat, released in May 2011, which says:
Inuit are committed to safe-guarding Inuit culture against excess adverse pressures and impacts that could be brought on by an overly ambitious, ill timed, or poorly planned and implemented staging of major resource development projects, particularly insofar as such a scenario precipitated a major influx of non-Inuit while failing to impart the technologies, skills and training, and business opportunities needed by Inuit.
Inuit are among Canada's youngest citizens, with a median age of 22, about half the Canadian median age of 40. The bulk of this population is now moving through the education system, yet too few are graduating. The stark reality of Inuit education today is that roughly three-quarters of the children are not completing high school, and many who do graduate find that their skills don't compare with those of non-aboriginal graduates.
Low educational outcomes are associated with adverse social implications, including greater unemployment, greater numbers of youth entering the criminal justice system, and greater incidences of illness and poverty. Existing socio-economic conditions will worsen unless more Inuit children graduate from high school with equivalent skills and the same opportunities to succeed in post-secondary education as their non-Inuit peers.
There's a long, graphic, and unhappy list of economic and social development indicators revealing the pronounced and enduring gaps in basic well-being between Inuit and other aboriginal peoples on the one hand and the general Canadian population on the other.
To conclude, the growing international interest in the rights, interests, and conditions of indigenous peoples should give Parliament and the Government of Canada added incentives to improve economic circumstances for any aboriginal peoples, a core reference point in determining and measuring the economic circumstances of Canada.
I'll leave it at that.