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World Water Week

It's day six of Blogtography's Water Week and before we leave the Arctic, here are a few of the things we hope to see in the future for the region....

The Inuit not exploited and moving into the future on their own terms.

Through the legislative assembly in Iqaluit, which makes decisions by consensus, and the group of eleven elders who ensure that all measures are in keeping with Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) or traditional culture and values, the Inuit do have some measure of control over their destiny and the future of their lands. But, naturally, there are competing interests involved in the region, and it would be naive to believe that all Inuit are of one view regarding the future. From Conservatives like Leona Aglukkaq MP to more socialist-minded souls, the Inuit will disagree with each other and with non-indigenous residents of the North, but they must be shown respect and treated as equal partners in determining the way forward.

Unlike some First Nations in the south of Canada, the Inuit don't have historic, exploitative treaties to contend with. But, now that the rest of the world is showing an aquisitive interest in the Arctic, they'll need to be on guard against some of their "friends" as well as more openly hostile forces.

Engineering advances to deal with changes in the permafrost.

A number of places (the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Manitoba, and Yukon College, amongst others) offer courses and degrees in civil engineering in the context of the permafrost, but they are going to have to adapt to recognise the new reality of the melting earth under the Arctic. There is an opportunity available to make some incredible advances in civic infrastructure for remote areas, and it would be great if Canada could lead the way here.

Food prices to go down and housing standards to go up.

In 2012, a report by Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, found that there was a real problem of food insecurity in the North, amongst the Inuit and First Nations in northern Alberta and Manitoba. This report was not welcomed by the Canadian government: ministers, including health minister Leona Aglukkaq, said the UN should visit the developing world and not Canada. Ms Aglukkaq went further, claiming that it was European Union environmental activists who were to blame for the Inuit's hunger. Activists have demanded an end to hunting polar bears and the EU has banned the import of seal products, but neither of these measures was aimed at indigenous subsistence hunting. Mary Simon, the head of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Ottawa-based national Inuit organisation, agreed with the UN report, saying that the EU ban on seal hunting was detrimental to Inuit interests but she also said that 70 per cent of Inuit households were food insecure, and that is entirely unacceptable.

The Facebook campaign Feeding My Family, founded in 2012 by Iqaluit resident Leesee Papatsie, has nearly 20,000 members, myself and some of my friends. The group highlights the exorbitant price of staple foods in the North and pushes for a fairer deal from the government subsidy program, Food North. Activists say that the Inuit are caught between traditional subsistence hunting and reliance on grocery stores for food: even with the effects of climate change, fish and game are available, but ammunition and fuel for snow machines ends up making a day's hunting cost about $150. Low wages and high prices make hunting a difficult proposition even for those with the skills

Social and economic programs that will actually improve life in the North. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has visited the North every summer for the last eight years. His real interest is establishing Canadian control over the region with military and industrial installations, but he would do well to win hearts and minds with programs to encourage indigenous participation in planned development, similar to the educational program that funds native youth in apprenticeships and trade union membership. There are social programs in the south of Canada, such as WoodGreen Community Services' Homeward Bound program, that would benefit Northern families immensely.

Sustainable tourism to benefit local people as well as visitors. With climate change, as the Arctic opens to the world, there will be no way to keep tourism out. Therefore, there must be a way to welcome visitors without destroying the local way of life, or changing it beyond recognition in order to be exploited by tourism. There are Inuit bands that charge $50,000 to outsiders for the opportunity to hunt polar bear, but many visitors will want to enjoy the beautiful landscape with cameras and not guns. The infrastructure required by tourism will change the Arctic, but, with luck, it will bring good things and not disaster.

The Canadian Arctic doesn't need outside "specialists" coming in to advise us on development. There are skilled and committed people who know the area, and they can be an important part of any new projects. Education and training can turn dependent people into trail blazers, and this should be the way forward.

Don't let development melt our frozen North.....

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