Early on in our work we did have the opportunity to have some exchanges back and forth with RAIPON and with members of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. One of the highlights was working on an exchange between hunters and herders. Part of the reason we did this is that we were doing some work on IPY, the International Polar Year, and in our region one of the biggest issues is caribou. Our people wanted to know a little bit more about herding and the pros and cons of herding.
We shared some of the information back and forth between our people and got a broader and better understanding of why things are the way they are. I think at some point in the future that might be a possibility for us as the caribou numbers begin to go down because of climate change and because their migration routes might be changing, so we looked for solutions within our circumpolar neighbourhood.
In our region our people have always had lower levels of education, and our elders have always taught us that education is very important and that we need to continue moving forward. We have a lot more graduates, but at the same time it's still a struggle. I think, looking at different examples around the circumpolar region, that in Russia and in the Scandinavian countries we see higher levels of indigenous peoples with high levels of education.
We are members of the University of the Arctic. We try to make those connections between our educators, and that has been very helpful with regard to continuing outreach within the circumpolar world on Arctic Council issues.
We have brought people into our region to talk about the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although our people are not right on the coast, we see future possibilities for becoming more involved with some of the studies to provide information to our people about what is going on in that region. Sometimes it's quite unbelievable to smaller communities to know that there are discussions and decisions being made in the region. To us it seems that there are very limited opportunities, but we know that with the changing climate, all of this is changing, so we reach out to some of our neighbours within our own area to discuss these issues.
One of our members in northern Canada did say that in comparison to some regions, the populations in our region are quite small. How would we deal with disaster situations if something were to happen on our coast within reach of these smaller communities? How are we prepared?
We participated in some preparation exercises with search and rescue mock-ups. We brought communities together, our indigenous communities, to see what some of the issues might be.
Connecting all of this is the fact that other countries might be interested in the Arctic. We hear a bit about climate refugees. We hear about illegal substances that might be moving through Arctic waters and coming inland, and our people are not equipped to deal with such large issues. I've had the opportunity to attend a couple of meetings in Halifax. One was an Arctic security forum. They mentioned that in the north we have our Rangers, but our Rangers are not equipped to deal with such issues.
What we have noticed is that there has been some discussion about the Chinese “silk road”. We see an influx of companies moving into Canada or partnering with Canada or others around the circumpolar world. China is expanding, and our people still have concerns about some of the human rights issues they see on the news, yet we do have a large, growing Chinese community here in the Yukon.
We welcome them. We learn. Their cultures are quite similar to ours if you go back to their ancient history. Our people have never been one to leave others out.
However, at the same time we notice there's a huge influx of people into our regions. Maybe one of the future discussions we would need to have is around migration, in order to understand it better, to have more of an understanding of how many people are moving into the northern regions as opposed to southern Canada.
The reason, in part, is that our community members don't always see or don't look at personal property. When we're in a community, we have our land claims here in Canada, so everything is owned by everyone, including the land. When you come to more southern, urban areas, such as Whitehorse, all of a sudden you need to buy land. A lot of property is being bought by people from even outside of Canada. A lot of other people are moving in from other countries.
Just for the future, knowing that there's an increase globally in population, we need to look at these areas.
Working within the Arctic Council, I see the need for more information coming north. There's a need for some of these issues to be brought forward to our people. We need more information, better education, more research directed to international or circumpolar communities, and we need to have community-based opportunities to participate.
Education, I think, is going to be quite important, as well as dissemination of information to our communities. Right now we have limited possibility at the Arctic Council level. The Arctic Council does put out newsletters and it has a website, but there's still nothing better than having meetings or workshops in the north at our community levels to talk about some of these issues, to bring forth any future issues that experts are saying may come to pass.
One of the key areas for our people is the caribou herds. We see a lot of the numbers going down. The Porcupine caribou herd is still quite stable at the highest level it has ever been at, but the migration patterns are changing, which leads to food security issues in our communities. We do hear the same from some of the herders we have contact with—