Address by Minister Aglukkaq at Arctic Frontiers Conference

January 21, 2013 - Tromsø, Norway

Check Against Delivery

I am delighted to speak about Canada’s upcoming tenure as chair of the Arctic Council, but I want to start by sharing a little about my history.

In October 2008, I was elected to serve as the member of Parliament for Canada’s northern territory of Nunavut. Nunavut is made up of 25 remote communities, each accessible only by air or water.

To put this in a different perspective, Nunavut is a land mass as big as Western Europe and covers three time zones.

I was raised in the remote community of Gjoa Haven or, as Norwegians would pronounce it, “Yo-wa Haa-ven.” I will touch on the significance of this in a moment.

In August of last year, Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper appointed me Canada’s minister for the Arctic Council.

This is notable for two reasons.

First, the appointment of a dedicated minister for the Arctic Council is a first for Canada. It reflects the importance that our government attaches to the North, to the Arctic Council and to our chairmanship of the council from 2013 to 2015.

Secondly, the appointment of someone who was born and raised in the Arctic to this newly created role reflects the importance placed upon the special knowledge and experience that people of the North can bring to the table.

 It’s safe to say that people who live in the Arctic are experts in what it takes to survive and thrive in the region. Of course, I’ve just recently learned that we aren’t the only ones who felt this way.

I travelled to Oslo for the first time a couple of days ago and had the opportunity to visit the Fram Museum and the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo.

This was very special for me. I was thrilled to look upon the faces of my ancestors in the wonderful photos taken by a very famous Norwegian—whom I’m sure some of you may know of—Roald Amundsen.

As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in the small Arctic community of Gjoa Haven. My family still lives there, and I still call it home.

Roald Amundsen was the first person to navigate the Northwest Passage, from 1903 to 1906.

Unfortunately, his small ship, the Gjøa, became trapped in the ice off King William Island, in a remote area now called Gjoa Haven. He and his small crew spent two winters there.

During that time, Amundsen developed a close relationship with the Inuit, who taught him and his crew how to survive in the harsh climate and conditions of the Arctic. They passed on the expert skills needed for everyday survival that they had learned from the generations before them.

In December of 1911, Amundsen and his crew reached the South Pole, and he stressed that the knowledge he had gained from the Netsilik Inuit of Gjoa Haven had been absolutely crucial to his success.

The traditional knowledge and expertise of the people living in the Arctic was crucial to Amundsen’s success in discovering a new frontier. And I believe it will also be the key to the future success of the Arctic Council.

The quickly changing state of the Arctic region will present a new frontier for all of us in the next few years. We will be faced with challenges and opportunities—some will be positive, some perhaps not.

But if we are to successfully navigate the future of the Arctic, we must build a bridge between the traditional knowledge of the people who live there and the new realities of the present.

For instance, I know how important it is to the Inuit of Canada that Inuit quayimayatuqangit, or “traditional knowledge,” be included in scientific research and policy making.

With this in mind, my first priority as Canada’s minister for the Arctic Council was to have a conversation with Northern Canadians about what our chairmanship priorities could be.

Last fall, I met with premiers, elected officials, Aboriginal leaders, Permanent Participants [of the Arctic Council], business people and researchers in Canada’s three northern territories—Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

And now, I am completing a tour of our Arctic Council partners, which I began in December with a visit to Stockholm.

This past week included visits to Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo and now Tromsø [Norway], my last stop.

Discussions with my counterparts, members of the business community and representatives of the Sami have been very productive and informative.

These discussions have underlined the challenges and opportunities ahead, as well as how much our countries have in common.

I heard a clear message during all of my domestic and international consultations: the well-being and prosperity of people living in the North must be at the forefront of Canada’s Arctic Council priorities.

Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council

That is why I’m excited to tell you that the overarching theme of our tenure as chair of the council will be Development for the People of the North.

With the help of our Arctic Council partners, we will focus on creating economic growth, strong and sustainable Northern communities and healthy ecosystems.

Canada will propose three sub-themes to guide our work.

The first is Responsible Arctic Resource Development.

The development of natural resources is important to the economic future of the Arctic and to the long-term prosperity of its people.

As I said when I represented Canada at the Nuuk [Greenland] ministerial meeting [of the Arctic Council] in May 2011, the potential for wealth and job creation through resource development in the Arctic is great.

Canada is determined to see Northern communities benefit from the economic boom that is unfolding in the region.

However, this development must be done in a responsible and environmentally sustainable manner so that the land, water and animals that many Northern people still depend upon are not negatively impacted. And we believe that the council must play a strong role in ensuring that this goal is achieved.

Canada will continue the work begun during Sweden’s tenure as chair of the Arctic Council to enhance the relationship between the business sector and the council.

Businesses in the Arctic have experience, including lessons learned and best practices, in many areas important to the circumpolar region.

Canada will work with its Arctic Council partners to find more opportunities for the business sector to engage with the council in order to share best practices and lessons learned in the circumpolar region.

Safe Arctic Shipping is our second sub-theme.

Canada will continue the council’s work on oil-spill prevention in the Arctic. This is essential.

An oil spill from one of the many ships that will soon be crossing Arctic waterways as the shipping season becomes longer could have serious consequences for the environment and the livelihoods of Northern people.

Canada foresees the development of guidelines for Arctic tourism and cruise ship operators. This work will support the new Arctic search and rescue agreement [Agreement on Cooperation in Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic] signed by all Arctic Council states in Greenland in 2011.

The third and final sub-theme is Sustainable Circumpolar Communities.

My family, friends and all Northerners are facing new challenges as a result of the impact of climate change.

It is critical that the council help people adapt to these changes, including by sharing best practices. We must also explore together how best to advance work on short-lived climate forcing agents, like black carbon. These agents come from industrial centres far from Northern communities but have significant impacts on Northern lifestyles.

Conclusion

In its first 16 years, the Arctic Council has done very important scientific work and shaped global policy on key issues, such as mercury.

Canada will continue this work.

But now we must make sure that we apply the findings of that research in a practical way that will help improve the well-being and prosperity of people living in the Arctic.

During my visit to the Fram Museum on Saturday, I learned about the innovation that went into the design of [Norwegian explorer Fridjot] Nansen’s impressive ship.

I also learned that the name of Nansen’s ship, Fram, means “forward,” which is fitting for a ship that was designed to deal with the harsh challenges of sailing Arctic waters—and to go farther north than anyone had gone before.

It is in this spirit that I envision the Arctic Council moving forward.

The Arctic region will be facing not only a time of change and challenge, but also a time of great opportunity.

If we combine the knowledge of the people who have lived in the North for generations with what we have learned through innovative research and technology, we can move forward successfully.

Of this, I have no doubt.

And we must move forward together, in a unified way, with the eight Arctic Council countries and the six Permanent Participant organizations all at the table.

In closing, I wish you a successful conference.

We have much to learn from each other and I appreciate this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you.

Thank you.