Opening of the Conference of Lieutenant Governors and Commissioners
Iqaluit, Saturday, May 30, 2009
It is truly a privilege to cross the 60th parallel for the fifth time since the beginning of my mandate, and to find ourselves once again here in Iqaluit, which we last visited in 2006.
I am delighted that it is here, among those who have inhabited these lands since the dawn of time, the Inuit, that we will be discussing the North together.
Particularly since this year, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Government of Nunavut. We have just completed a tour that took us to the four corners of this seemingly endless territory.
From Rankin Inlet, on the northwest shore of Hudson Bay, to Kugluktuk, located at the mouth of the Coppermine River, all the way to Resolute, the second most northern inhabited village in Canada, visiting Pond Inlet, Clyde River and, of course, Iqaluit along the way, with a final stop in Nunavik to visit the community of Kuujjuaq.
As you may know, we are still hoping that the weather will allow us to spend time with the people of Pangnirtung, as we had initially planned.
These vast stretches of snow, rock, earth and water, reaching as far as the eye can see, encompass majestic canyons and fjords, soaring mountains that climb to the sky, and thousands of kilometres of land untouched by human hands.
For millennia, the North has benefitted from the stewardship of a people that has stood the test of time because of its natural ingenuity, its wisdom and its long-practised traditions.
Those of us from the South are filled with a sense of admiration and are humbled.
The North is a region like no other in the world, whose greatest treasures, beyond its natural resources, are its people.
Significantly, more than half of the Inuit population is under 20 years old.
In some communities, this means that over sixty percent of the residents are children and youth.
From one community to the next, I wanted to take the time to boost the confidence of these young people so that they would seize every opportunity to make the most of life.
I wanted to enter into dialogue with them to show that we are listening to and care about their dreams.
That we are confident in their potential.
That we are prepared to pay heed to their aspirations.
I sought to encourage them to take great pride in the Inuit civilization, which has stood the test of time because of a knowledge like no other in the world.
I wanted to assure the youth that the development of the North could not and should not take place without them.
That true Northern and Arctic sovereignty is contingent on our ability as a nation to respect the populations who live there, the original inhabitants of the land.
Dear friends, my visit to communities across the North was also inspired by my recent State Visit to the Kingdom of Norway, where I travelled over 400 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, to the city of Tromsø.
It was there that I was astonished to discover a university offering a full range of programs from medicine to music, from engineering to international law, from cutting-edge research to the preservation of ancestral cultures.
That remarkable institution, where Sami, Norwegian and foreign students share knowledge and experiences, is a powerful tool for human and economic development.
The university represents an inspiring model for higher learning that could be emulated in Canada.
Upon returning, I realized how far we lag behind in terms of promoting and sustaining post-secondary education in the North.
Canada is the only Nordic country without a university in its North.
Finland, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the United States all have at least one university in the North.
This is not to diminish the value and scope of higher learning in the North. In fact, the Territories have established an effective network of colleges that work in tandem with several southern universities as a consortium.
Yet they only offer a limited number of programs, and many northern youth seeking to pursue post-secondary education are forced to move to the South to study.
Dear friends, it is unfortunate but Canada lags forty years behind other countries in terms of higher education in the North.
So, I undertaking a visit to communities across the Canadian North, I wanted to hear from the populations to determine whether they saw any value in offering youth the option of a university in the region.
And let me tell you: the response I received was incredible.
Wherever I went, elders and youth, women and men, spoke eloquently to the urgent need for such an institution in the region.
Starry-eyed children and youth spoke with confidence and pride in their aspirations to become professionals in a wide range of fields.
Rising to the challenge, they affirmed their desire to become doctors, biologists, physicists, lawyers, engineers, businesspeople, and social workers, to name but a few professions.
In essence, the idea of a Nordic university in Canada struck a chord with the population who said it was an effective means to allow their youth to start dreaming again.
To realize the higher education and professional occupations could be but a footstep away.
To act as a bridge between the North and South, through which students from both regions could learn, study and research together in a spirit of reciprocity and solidarity.
And to help ensure that the North could be peopled by a record number of professionals and skilled workers, bringing Inuit-based solutions to the challenges of social and economic development, and creating more healthy, stronger, viable and sustainable communities.
During our visit to the North, we also met with elders, the keepers of a timeless wisdom and heritage.
At a time when the world is increasingly aware of climate change and its devastating effect on the environment, the Inuit people stand as a model of the sustainable utilization of natural resources.
Long before the world’s scientists sounded the alarm, the elders noticed that the snow was melting, that the ice was receding, that animals were straying from their migratory paths.
The Inuit were among the first to read these signs as cause for concern, not only for northern populations, but for all people around the world.
As the issue of sovereignty in the Arctic becomes increasingly important, it is imperative that we address the challenges facing northern populations.
We have so much to learn from the people who have thrived in this extreme environment with which they maintain an intimate, spiritual bond.
We have so much to learn from this civilization of oral traditions, which values silence as much as the spoken word.
I will stop here, so that we may begin the dialogue that can only be mutually enriching.
Later, we will hear from Mel Cappe, President of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, who will share with us his thoughts on the North, as well as from two actively involved northern women, Sandie Vincent and Sandra Inutiq, who will offer their unique point of view on the ways in which we can help to achieve this dream of a Canadian university in the North.
It is our hope that this will enable us to build bridges between the North and the South.
Thank you, and may you enjoy a most rewarding conference.