The federal Senate Standing Committee on National Defence is currently on a tour of the Canadian Arctic in connection to its study on Arctic Sovereignty. It kicked off with a visit to the Nunavut capital of Iqaluit earlier this month.

The committee’s recommendations will help influence over $40 billion, which will go toward modernizing NORAD over the next 20 years. $4.9 billion of that money has been earmarked in the 2022 federal budget to update aging North American air defence systems.

The Standing Committee’s Arctic tour will also bring them to Cambridge Bay, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Yellowknife.

Kicking off the tour was the Arctic Sovereignty and Security Summit in Iqaluit, which was sponsored by the Nasittuq Corporation, along with some help from Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson’s office.

At the Summit, 13 senators, including the Standing Committee were present, listening to Inuit leaders from both the public and private sectors on their hopes of what these new investments bring.

One of these investments coming from the new funding came Oct. 3, when Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal virtually announced $122 million which will go toward Nasittuq for the continued operations and maintenance of the Canadian Forces Station Alert on northern Ellesmere Island.

Improved airstrips, improved connectivity, ports and roads are just some of the possible benefits for Nunavummiut in modernizing NORAD, said Patterson.

“I’m optimistic that some of the advice they got from Inuit leaders is going to show up in their recommendations to the federal government,” the senator said.

Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated CEO Kilikvak Kabloona all gave addresses during the summit, giving their perspective on what future federal policy on Arctic defence should look like.

“The idea was to sensitize the federal government, including through the Senate Committees Report – to make sure they understand that Inuit are experienced, capable and eager to be involved in these significant opportunities,” said Patterson.

“Sovereignty and security is about more than just militarization,” he added. “It’s about people and communities. Militarization which doesn’t take into account respect for people and communities is not going to succeed.”

Seeking a fresh start

Between the 1940s and 1960s, there was an American Cold War military base in Iqaluit. While it grew the community with an influx on non-Inuit, Iqaluit also saw increased segregation, racial tensions and subsequent environmental damage to the area. It’s a history the committee won’t be repeated.

“I’m seeing in the spirit and the intelligence in the younger Inuit leaders that this is an entirely fresh start from the ground-up and important to that is the leadership on the ground here,” said Ontario Senator Tony Dean, chair of the committee.

The increased prevalence of Inuit-led economic development corporations in the Arctic is something Dean was glad to see.

“I think we’re seeing a very significant change,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s easy to think of things as a one-time opportunity. We can’t do that anymore. This has to be a continual dialogue involving shared learning between federal, provincial and municipal governments and Inuit organizations.”

Modernization of the North Warning System, clean-up on DEW Line sites and defence contracts are just some of the opportunities that are presented to Inuit and Inuit companies in the Arctic.

“This is much more of an egalitarian relationship and (has) a maturity that is impressive to see,” said Dean.

It’s not just about military modernization of the North, said Patterson, but it can also be linked to community benefits for Nunavummiut.

“I’m very optimistic Inuit will play a big role in this important NORAD modernization,” said Patterson.

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