Bob McLeod - 2017 Arctic Circle Assembly

Check Against Delivery

Delivered Friday, October 13, 2017

Good morning, I am pleased to be in Iceland this week representing the people and Government of the Northwest Territories.

The Northwest Territories – along with Nunavut – is one of two Canadian jurisdictions where Indigenous people are in the majority. Our two jurisdictions are also the only two in Canada whose Legislative Assemblies typically have a majority of Indigenous representatives and whose Premiers have historically also been Indigenous.

I live in and represent a constituency in the territorial capital of Yellowknife, but was born and raised in Fort Providence, Northwest Territories.

Fort Providence is a small community in the Dehcho Region with a population of around 800 people. Almost 90 per cent of the people who live there are Indigenous, with 52 percent of them speaking an Aboriginal language as of 2014.

There is a lot of talk in Canada about reconciliation with Indigenous people right now, about how Canada has to do better for Indigenous people. This is a good and honourable ideal, but I think it obscures the diversity of Indigenous experiences in Canada, including the progressive approach already practiced in our Northern territories.

The Northwest Territories has taken great strides towards political self-determination in the past four decades, with a number of land, resources and self-government agreements having been settled and more in active negotiations.  We have 11 official languages, including nine Aboriginal languages enshrined in legislation, our schools offer Aboriginal language teaching and with Nunavut we were the first jurisdictions in Canada to create a mandatory curriculum for high school students to learn the legacy and history of residential schools. Currently, the majority of the Members of our Legislative Assembly, including five of seven Cabinet Ministers, Indigenous. There is more work to do but I am very proud to point to the NWT as an international example of how true reconciliation , particularly economic self determination, can be achieved.

As far back as 20 years ago, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, noted that “the North is the part of Canada in which Aboriginal people have achieved the most in terms of political influence and institutions appropriate to their cultures and needs.”

At the same time, however, the Royal Commission noted that “the North itself is a region with little influence over its own destiny. Most of the levers of political and economic power continue to be held outside the North and, in some cases, outside Canada.”

Devolution of responsibility for lands and resources to the Government of the Northwest Territories in 2014 theoretically put an end to the colonial practice of federal bureaucrats in Ottawa – 2000 miles away – making the decisions that most affect the Northwest Territories and its people.

Even so, colonialism is not entirely absent, as we saw last December when the Government of Canada declared a unilateral moratorium on oil and gas development in the Arctic without prior consultation with either the public government of the Northwest Territories or the Indigenous people of the region.

It has become increasingly clear that if Northerners want a sustainable future with viable options, we need to lead the planning.

That’s why I joined with the Premiers of Nunavut and Yukon to issue our Pan-Territorial Vision for Sustainable Development last month.

Our vision is built on the recognition that the people of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon are our number one priority and our most important resource. We want our people to have opportunities to build self-reliance, live in healthy, vibrant communities and build their capacities to reach their full potential.

We need a strong, sustainable economy to achieve that goal, built on the foundation of responsible resource development and job creation that is the cornerstone of the territorial economies.

But we also recognize that a resource economy – while a significant source of wealth to our residents – cannot be our only focus. We know we need to diversify, to expand into other sectors that can give residents in all our communities good jobs that will last well into the future.

Large-scale investment in infrastructure is going to be one of the keys to growing and diversifying our economy. That will need to include investments in transportation infrastructure like highways, harbours, airports and rail to connect our territories to markets and our people to opportunities. It will also need to include investments in clean, affordable energy alternatives and connections to hydroelectric grids that will reduce the cost of living and doing business in the North.

Innovation will be another key, driving the development of a Northern knowledge economy built on unique research and commercialization opportunities.

With decades of experience in safe and responsible resource development, we are already positioned to drive innovation in cold climate research extraction. As one of the regions of the world already feeling the effects of climate change, we already have significant experience in adaptation and mitigation. We are also now positioned to be a leader in high tech, with the recent completion of the Mackenzie Valley Fiber Line creating opportunities to expand the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility, one of the best locations for communicating with polar orbiting satellites.

Ladies and gentlemen, the people of the Arctic want what everybody else wants. They want good jobs and a good standard of living, they want to be healthy and educated, and most of all, they want a sustainable future for themselves and their families based on their own vision and priorities.

The three territories have a vision for that future and we are eager to join with you to create a sustainable Arctic that will continue to support our communities and our people and allow them to achieve their aspirations.

Thank you.