Thank you, honourable chair and committee members, for the opportunity to speak to you today.
My name is Natan Obed. I'm the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the representational voice of Canada's 60,000 Inuit from Nunatsiavut in the east to the Inuvialuit region in the western Arctic.
We're at a very interesting point in the relationship between the Government of Canada and its indigenous peoples, and we are very excited as Inuit to explore the renewal of the Inuit-to-crown relationship within the overarching nation-to-nation discussion that the Prime Minister has started.
In many ways we can renew this relationship through governance and through working together in different ways that will allow for greater efficiencies and greater access to programs or services or a political voice. That doesn't necessarily cost any money, but major investments are necessary to renew the relationship, and that's what I'm here to talk about today.
First, we have to consider the Inuit-specific lens that we put on any sort of investments that happen in our regions. In every single Speech from the Throne, in every single budget, in every major funding announcement we listen to to see if the Government of Canada understands the complexity of indigenous jurisdictions and indigenous peoples in Canada, time and time again we, as Inuit, find ourselves either left out or only partially covered or covered in a way that does not reflect the realities in which we live.
Whether it's the recent Speech from the Throne talking about first nations education instead of indigenous education or a northern strategy that excludes two of the four Inuit regions in Canada, the terminology used and the specific wording in budgets or in announcements have great implications for Inuit, and if the government would like to do its best for indigenous people, it needs to do a better job on how it phrases the wording and be honest about who is inside and who is outside the funding envelope. I believe Canada can do better in articulating exactly which investments will be for Inuit, which will be for first nations, and which will be for Métis, as well as which will be indigenous in scope.
It isn't as if we are looking for a relationship that is completely exclusive or inclusive. We don't live on reserves. We have four comprehensive land claim agreements that create the governance space for all our interactions with the federal government, so we do not fall under the Indian Act, but it is very important that right from the beginning we have a very clear sense of what investments are made for us and do not have to figure it out after the fact because “first nations” is used sometimes instead of “indigenous”, or “indigenous” is used when it only means certain indigenous peoples in Canada.
I'll speak very briefly about some of our top priorities.
The first is in relation to infrastructure. Canada is still incomplete in its building process. We do not have the infrastructure in our 53 communities in the Arctic that many people enjoy in southern Canada. We still don't have ports in many of our communities, even though all but two of our communities are marine communities.
We still have diesel generation that powers all our communities in an age where we are looking for better and cleaner energy alternatives. This is completely unacceptable.
We have lack of connectivity or decreased connectivity compared to most Canadians because of the expense of connectivity in the Arctic and the limitations of the satellites that provide it. We believe Canada can make investments to ensure that connectivity in the Arctic is just as good as connectivity in southern Canada.
We also have massive infrastructure issues in relation to getting goods and services into and out of our communities. Just about all of our communities have marine access in the summer and only air access in the winter, when it is fly in and fly out. We have some communities that have ice roads and some communities that do have year-round roads, but those are very few in number. The investment that Canada makes in infrastructure in Inuit communities helps build Canada. It helps build sovereignty and the discussion about sovereignty in Canada, but it also allows for economic development to happen.
We also have a housing crisis in our regions. We need large investments to ensure that we do not continue to live in overcrowded conditions, as we currently do, with over half of our people in overcrowded social housing.
That brings me to our social envelope.
There have been many discussions over the past three or four months about improving the lives of indigenous Canadians, specifically Inuit. I will start with the government's commitment to the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action, the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. We will expect that the budget will include funding to implement those three very large, very comprehensive, and very much needed different scopes of work that will be reflective of Inuit as well as the other indigenous Canadians in a way that is respectful and comprehensive.