‘We often as Inuit leaders have to be the ones that educate ministers,’ Natan Obed says
CBC Indigenous: The Trudeau government’s summer cabinet shakeup has created challenges when trying to advance Inuit political priorities in Ottawa, says Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) President Natan Obed.
It’s a concern made more pressing as the Liberals approach their ninth year in power, he said.
“The completion of work takes a hit when you have such massive shuffles,” said Obed, head of the national representative organization for Inuit in Canada.
Obed spoke with CBC Indigenous at the ITK office in Ottawa following a Monday meeting of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, a forum established in 2017 for Inuit and federal leaders to discuss topics of mutual concern.
The issues discussed at the meeting were varied and complex, ranging from housing and legislation to land claims implementation, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, health, education and more.
While Obed billed the gathering as moderately productive and marked by frank, tough conversations, he expressed some exasperation with the speedbumps that accompany such a large shift in personnel.
The shakeup, intended to convey a shift in governmental priorities, meant that only two of the nine cabinet ministers at the meeting were still in their old jobs: Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.
That puts Inuit leaders in the position of having to teach the government about its own policies and priorities, said Obed, describing it as a “systematic amnesia” that grips the government amid these transitions.
“We often as Inuit leaders have to be the ones that educate ministers about the very files that they are tasked to work on,” he said. “That says something really profound about the inability of the government to educate its own self about what it’s doing.”
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Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree, who co-chaired his first Inuit-Crown partnership meeting, is among the rookies at the table. He’s had three months on the job and bills himself as a fast learner ready to take the reins.
“I recognize the frustration sometimes that exists,” Anandasangaree said on Wednesday. “While we don’t expect breakthroughs at these meetings, it’s fair to say this meeting was successful and we have a lot of work ahead.”
Action urged on housing, MMIWG
Despite his concerns, Obed refused to slide into pessimism. He laid out a range of specific actions Inuit leaders want to see.
They want an Inuit-specific portion carved out from the $4-billion urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy pledged in budget 2023. They want the same thing from the $2.2 billion announced in budget 2021 to address violence toward Indigenous women and girls. And, they want Immigration Minister Marc Miller to turn his “supportive words” into a law recognizing Indigenous peoples’ inherent right to move freely across international boundaries.
Having dealt with the Liberals for eight years, Obed said Inuit have now been through the research, planning, costing and sometimes even pilot phases when it comes to their policy priorities.
“What’s left is to actually do the work,” he said. “It’s essential for the legacy of this government to naturally follow through with the commitments that it has made.”
Anandasangaree wouldn’t say whether he feels additional pressure to deliver now, with his partners demanding action and the clock ticking, as just two more federal budgets remain before the 2025 election. “On this portfolio, the pressure has been there from the outset,” the minister said.
Concerns about identity
On another front, Obed said Inuit leaders raised concerns about the threat posed by the federal recognition of “fraudulent Inuit collectives,” not just individuals misappropriating Inuit identity. “We’re very concerned that the federal government has not unequivocally upheld the Inuit self-determination of our fundamental right to decide who is a part of our collective, and who isn’t,” he said.
The minister acknowledged the identity issue deeply concerns many, but he insisted the decision to recognize Indigenous rights isn’t motivated by politics, but law and history. “This is not something that we as a government take lightly,” Anandasangaree said.
“I will continue to work with Inuit leadership on that.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett Forester, Reporter
Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.