"Steering our own ship?" An assessment of self-determination and self-governance for community development in Nunavut.

Author:Ritsema, Roger
Position::Report
 
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Abstract: Climate change, the global demand for energy, and the depletion of easily accessible natural resources has led to an increase in mining activities in the Arctic, including in Nunavut, a region rich in resources but remote in comparison to the rest of Canada. Nunavut is a predominantly Inuit socio-political region created in 1999 via the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) (1993). The NLCA also enshrined the Inuit right to manage the region's minerals and other natural resources. Yet, despite this power to "steer their own ship," Inuit communities struggle to maximize the benefits from resource development. Pond Inlet is a coastal hamlet on Baffin Island close to the newly operational Mary River iron ore mine, an open-pit mine with the potential to bring significant economic opportunities to the region. Using a framework developed by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, a case study of Pond Inlet highlights factors that contribute to and hinder Arctic Aboriginal communities' successful local development. A total of 47 semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants in Pond Inlet and in the territory's capital, Iqaluit. Findings underscore the importance of Indigenous community self-determination, effective and culturally relevant governing institutions, and clear visioning for the future. In Pond Inlet, key barriers to maximizing local benefits relate to institutional and governance challenges. Evidence from this study suggests that Pond Inlet will better succeed with local community development by strengthening its governance mechanisms to support the goals of self-determination.

1.0. Introduction

In the Canadian Arctic, environmental changes such as reduced sea ice and melting permafrost (ACIA, 2004; IPCC, 2014) are increasing access to remote Arctic areas rich in oil, gas, and minerals (Lemmen, Warren, Lacroix, & Bush, 2008; Gauthier et al., 2009; Prowse et al., 2009). This new access, coupled with the continual global demand for energy resources, has the potential to usher in an era of highly active resource extraction across the Canadian North (Prowse et al., 2009; RESDA, 2012, 2013; Rheaume & Caron-Vuotari, 2013). The federal Government of Canada, the territorial Government of Nunavut, and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), an Inuit corporation created as a result of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA), all agree that mining is an important driver of economic growth in the region--although their specific priorities and goals differ. For example, as it has throughout its history and in alignment with current political preferences, Canada views Arctic resource development as a means to support the national economy. By contrast, both NTI and the Government of Nunavut regard mining and other forms of economic development as a way to ensure that Inuit communities are not only economically sustainable but able to socially and culturally thrive.

The national-scale benefits of mining in the North are clear, as are the financial benefits for private sector companies backing extraction efforts. What is not dear is the extent to which small Inuit communities in Nunavut will positively benefit from resource development within their homeland over the longer term. Considering the boom-bust dynamics of resource dependent regions, it is also unclear how communities can best leverage regional mining activities to create self-sustaining and culturally relevant economies.

Related questions have been the focus of nearly three decades of research by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (identified hereafter as the Harvard Project) and 15 years of work by its sister organization, the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona (NNI) (see HPAIED, 2015; and NNI, 2015). Harvard Project studies show that selfdetermination, especially when backed by effective, Indigenous institutions of government, is the fundamental factor in Indigenous nations' successful economic and community development. Given that the settled NLCA recognizes Inuit authority to develop their homeland and provides for the creation of Inuit legal and political institutions, one might assume that Inuit communities in Nunavut are in an excellent position to exercise selfdetermination on behalf of economic development. So why do communities across the region continue to struggle?

The research presented here attempts to understand why Nunavut communities are struggling despite their ostensible "self-determination." We use as a case study the community of Pond Inlet, Nunavut and a framework developed by the Harvard Project and NNI in order to identify existing characteristics of community governance that may--or may not--support successful local development. This article proceeds as follows: Section 2.0 presents data about the case study community and describes the research findings and resultant analytical framework of the Harvard Project, Section 3.0 describes the methodology used for this case study, Section 4.0 presents and discusses findings, and Section 5.0 provides a conclusion.

2.0. Case Study and Conceptual Approach

2.2. The Community of Pond Inlet

Pond Inlet (72.7[degrees] N, 77.9[degrees] W) is a coastal community of just over 1,500 people (90% Inuit) located on northern Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk/Baffin region of the Nunavut territory, the largest and most northern territory of Canada (Statistics Canada, 2013). Nunavut's population is overwhelmingly young, with a median age of 22 as compared to 39 years for the national population (Statistics Canada, 2012), and a population growth rate nearly double the Canadian average (Statistics Canada, 2011). As one of the larger communities in Nunavut, Pond Inlet's population likely reflects these territory-wide averages.

Politically, Pond Inlet is classified as an incorporated hamlet, which is equivalent to town status but without taxation powers. The community began running its own affairs on 1 April 1975, and is gaining additional responsibilities as devolution of governance continues in the North, from national to territorial to local levels. Devolution is part of the 1993 settling of the Nunavut Land Claim Area, which recognizes that Nunavummiut (collectively the Inuit living in Nunavut) have an inherent right to Inuit-owned lands (and its resources) as affirmed in Canadian law. As a result, Nunavummiut have gained a measure of self-determination over their political and economic affairs within their homeland (see NTI, 2015b).

Pond Inlet's formal economy is service-based with public administration, retail trade, educational services, construction, health care, and social services sectors dominating labour force participation (Statistics Canada, 2013). Although more difficult to quantify, informal activities such as subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering, as well as the practice of cultural arts, are also important parts of the overall Nunavut economy (NEF, 2013) and cultural heritage and identity of the people of the region. Unfortunately, like many other Inuit communities in Nunavut, Pond Inlet struggles with social and economic issues such as low educational attainment, high unemployment, and elevated rates of poverty and poor health (Coates & Powell, 1989; SEDSG, 2003; Angeli & Parkins, 2010; NSCG, 2009; Parlee & Furgal, 2012; Peterson, 2012; NEF, 2013; CPC, 2014).

More recently, Pond Inlet has become known for its close proximity to one of the largest iron ore deposits that climate change has helped make accessible for development (Government of Canada, 2009; AANDC, 2012; BIMC, 2012). The Mary River open-pit iron ore mine has an estimated operational life of at least twenty years, and is expected to generate thousands of jobs while in operation, triple the growth rate of the territory's annual gross domestic product, and provide nearly $5 billion in tax revenue and royalties (Waldie, 2011; BIMC, 2012). Employment at the mine is expected to peak at 2,700 workers during the construction phase and employ 950 people during the operation phase (BIMC, 2012). If mine development meets expectations for economic growth and opportunity as reflected in the NLCA and the Mary River Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement (MRIIBA), the Inuit of Pond Inlet (sometimes referred to as Mittimatalikmiut) could benefit from increased employment opportunities, improved local infrastructure, greater potential for entrepreneurial ventures, and new local services. In turn, these changes could decrease local poverty rates and improve health and wellbeing indicators (NTI, 1997; SEDSG, 2003; Government of Nunavut, 2007; Government of Canada, 2009; BIMC, 2012). The experiences of some other northern communities underscore the possibilities (NEF, 2013).

However, prior studies also show that northern development can cause a range of negative impacts for local Aboriginal communities when their rights and needs are not held paramount. These include boom and bust economies; increased drug and alcohol use caused by the influx of money and people into previously isolated areas; increased rates of crime, violence, and suicide as a result of social disturbance; disruption of traditional land-based economies and the subsequent loss of cultural traditions; and environmental degradation as a consequence of unchecked resource extraction (Duhaime et al., 2003; Buell, 2006; Angeli & Parkins, 2010; Peterson, 2012).

2.2. A Summary of Harvard Project Research Findings and Model

Since 1987, the Harvard Project--and since 2001, the Native Nations Institute--has worked with American Indian nations in the United States to better understand the determinants of sustained social and economic development (HPAIED, 2015; NNI, 2015). They have asked, "[W]hat accounts for some American Indian nations' community development success while other nations continue to struggle?" Research findings point to several key factors: self-determined...

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