Do not underestimate Inuit, keynote speaker Dr. Ken Coates cautioned hundreds of industry delegates in his opening salvo at the 2018 Nunavut Mining Symposium April 10.
Coates, an academic who came of age in the Yukon when that territory seemed to be "opening a mine every second day", variously addressed Nunavummiut and visitors, offering advice to both in his 50-minute address.
"Indigenous communities support properly-done resource development," he said. "If they live in remote regions, and the majority of Indigenous people in Canada live in remote areas, small towns, isolated areas, there is only one opportunity for economic prosperity. There is only one way they can break away from dependence on government."
He said Nunavut's small population is not a weakness, it's a strength. Take a whole-territory approach to training, welcome gender diversity, embrace emerging technologies, he counselled. Canada needs to provide Nunavut with fast and affordable broadband, and Inuit must be full partners in resource development.
"Canada is an incomplete confederation, " he said, pointing to the failure to connect Nunavut to the south with affordable high-speed internet. And he said practical sovereignty requires proper housing.
"The housing crisis is a monumental failure and you move on it slowly. That's not practical sovereignty, is it?" he asked.
Mining companies must work collaboratively with Inuit in a systematic way, and Inuit must understand the companies must make a profit. Coates mentioned the Grays Bay Road and Port project, a collaboration between the Government of Nunavut and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, working with industry.
"Do that every day," he said.
Regarding emerging technologies, Nunavut could be the world's leading test case, Coates said.
On training, "we don't do it right. Don't just train for trades, train for the next generation of work."
Coates said people are looking to the North like never before. While Inuit traditions must and should be maintained, there is a new Arctic developing.
"It’s an Arctic that is based on sharing resource wealth, and sharing and building it together. Mining and resource development are not incompatible with Indigenous self-determination. What is different about what's going on is that decisions are going to be made in the North," he said.
Participation, not consultation
Parliamentary secretary to the federal Minister of Natural Resources Kim Rudd was at the symposium, meeting with a variety of delegates, Nunavut leaders and Nunavummiut, sharing her government's Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan and Arctic Policy Framework.
Rudd told Nunavut News she thinks resource development is a game-changer for Nunavut.
"By game-changer I mean economic development, education, quality of life, moving people into the middle class. Natural resources is at the heart of that," she said.
"As the federal government we recognize that with our natural resource projects we have to have not just Indigenous consultation but Indigenous participation, and that Nunavut is doing that well."
Premier Paul Quassa and Inuit leaders will accompany Rudd next week at the United Nations to discuss co-management of the Arctic, she said.
"It's important to have the people who understand the realities at the table as a partner, not just putting their two cents in but involved in the nuts and bolts of it in terms of what the framework looks like."
Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern, who is the president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, said Nunavut communities and Inuit recognize the need for resource development.
"But sharing resources must be done responsibly, and other communities that are not adjacent to mines also want to participate in the mining sector. If mining companies are prepared to fly people from all different parts of southern Canada to work at the mines, it should be reasonable and possible for people in other communities to be able to be trained and to be employed in the mining sector," said Redfern.
Redfern appreciates how Coates stressed the need for flexibility and creativity.
Coates' final words about the global significance of Nunavut: "Let's make Nunavut roar."
"You're on the front lines, whether you want to or not – the front lines of Indigenous self-determination," he said.