Photos by Carson Tagoona
Nunavik business and culture were showcased at this year’s Northern Lights Conference in Ottawa.
From February 5 to 8, thousands of delegates and visitors came together at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa, to engage in industry workshops, talks, and cultural events, all with an Eastern Arctic focus.
Makivvik was an exhibitor with a booth on the trade show floor, along with many of its subsidiaries, including: Nunavik Geomatics, Kautaq Construction, Nunavik Furs, NEAS, Air Inuit, and Canadian North. The Arts and Cultural Pavilion saw artists selling their work, and visitors were kept engaged with a variety of demonstrations and displays. Nunavik Night, an invitation-only event, was held on February 7, showcasing entertainers from Northern Quebec.
Delegates were also able to attend a breakfast event featuring a talk by Makivvik President Charlie Watt on February 6. The text of that speech follows:
My name is Charlie Watt and I’m the President of Makivvik, which represents the Inuit of Nunavik in northern Quebec. Prior to this I have also been founding President of NQIA, and also past President of Makivvik twice and the Treasurer, and I was a Canadian Senator for 34 years.
The Arctic is made of many regions, which in Canada includes: Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunatsiavut and Nunavik, my homeland. But we are one people in spite of these artificial borders.
Before I begin my talk, I would like to pay my respects and acknowledge the passing of Bill Kemp, the husband of Lorraine Brooke. Bill was a member of the Makivvik family since 1975. He was a friend of the north, a friend of Inuit and my friend. He is missed dearly.
(A moment of silence observed)
My speech today is to share the perspective that Nunavik Inuit have entered into our own self-determination process. All our actions and decisions, all the positions we take are through that lens.
As Inuit we are asserting our rights to our homeland, the Arctic lands, waters, sea ice and air, and we are developing our business capacity. We are working towards making Nunavik more economically self-reliant.
● Part of asserting sovereignty is undertaking commercial activities, building our own economy, and we have a huge opportunity to do so.
● We have shifted our focus to creating our own deals with other governments and exploring what is possible, and in doing this perhaps we need to discuss the creation of an Inuit free trade zone across the Inuit homeland and be more aggressive on international trade and take the lead.
● Canada is failing to invest in Nunavik, and Inuit need to pull together and invest in ourselves, and we are seeking investment capital.
● We need ports, better airports, new and relocated airstrips and telecommunication infrastructure and housing.
● Climate change is causing the North to experience difficulties – our runways are sinking and becoming less secure and this will need to be addressed quickly. It’s only one example of what climate change is doing to the North.
● The Inuit of Nunavik are innovative, and we build strong alliances with our partners across the Arctic.
● Makivvik has two successful Airlines: the new Canadian North (a recent merger with First Air) and Air Inuit.
● I would like to think about one Inuit-owned airline that can stretch across our Inuit homeland – including Alaska, Greenland and Russia and beyond.
● Traditionally our communities were linked by trails across the Arctic waters, land, and sea ice, and now we are in the modern era and we can reach across the skies.
● The successes we have with the airlines can also be experienced in other fields as well.
● As an example, we are partnered in shipping through our joint ownership in marine transportation called NEAS, where we are 50 per cent partners, and we can do more.
● In Nunavik, our structure at Makivvik is unique compared to the other Inuit regions. We have the economic development and the political as two arms of the same body.
● This means, you can be certain we are able and willing to do business in a timely fashion.
● We are the approval body — which means we are a one-stop organization and can authorize the investment opportunities in the region.
● We are open for business and we look forward to creating new partnerships with the business community at the national and international level.
●As we move forward, we look to Canada to implement a clear enforceable procurement policy for Inuit business.
● And, we are looking for opportunities outside of our region, in your area, and let’s see what we can do together.
In 2015, my colleagues at the Senate issued a report that linked sovereignty to a prosperous North and recommended that Canada should invest in northern communities focusing on investments in energy.
I’m pleased to know that our efforts to develop the North are recognized by Canada as significant not only for us, but to the economic health of the nation.
The Senate connected the prosperity of our communities with Canada’s ability to reinforce its sovereignty in the Arctic. In spite of the Senate report, and other calls to action,
Canada has failed to invest in Arctic infrastructure and continues to fail the Inuit.
We are full tax payers, and we expect to be treated with respect, and professionalism.
Over 40 years ago we signed the JBNQA with Canada, and we have been self-financing the implementation of our agreement while other communities have received significant money from Canada, but we have a strong culture of business development and moved forward in spite of Canada’s delay.
Makivvik has also signed an MOU with Canada to modernize our agreement with the Crown, but we are not waiting for Canada to give us permission – instead, we are moving forward and Canada will have to catch up to us.
We are key to Arctic sovereignty. Canada and all Arctic states need to remember that their sovereignty comes through the fact that Inuit have lived in the Arctic for millennia, long before there were ever “states.” They are only able to claim “effective occupation” of the Arctic lands because they have partnerships with Inuit.
Inuit have a long history of governing ourselves before our region was colonized, and we did so very successfully. We are looking for new ways to govern ourselves which respect Inuit culture and language and our heritage as northern peoples.
Our vision for the Arctic is clear. Unity among the Inuit will be key to our development. Inuit must be leaders in the Arctic. We will mark our place as free agents, decide on our alliances, and shape our own future.