• Indigenous peoples in Canada

    Indigenous peoples in Canada

    The indigenous peoples of Canada are collectively referred to as “aboriginal peoples”. Canada recognizes three groups of aboriginal peoples: First Nation, Inuit and Métis. Canada’s aboriginal peoples are challenged by the slow implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, child welfare, and violence against indigenous women and girls.
  • Peoples

    1,400,685 persons in Canada have an aboriginal identity, according to the 2011 census
  • Rights

    In 2010, the Canadian government announced its endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007.
  • Current state

    Canada’s aboriginal peoples are challenged by the slow implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, child welfare, and violence against indigenous women and girls.

Indigenous World 2019: Inuit Nunangat

The majority of the 65,030 Inuit in Canada live in 51 communities in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland encompassing the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Quebec and Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador.

Comprehensive Inuit-Crown land claims agreements shape the political contours of each of the four Inuit regions. Through these constitutionally protected agreements, Inuit representative organizations and governments co-manage, with the federal government, nearly one-third of Canada’s landmass and 50 % of its coastline. Inuit are represented at the national level by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and at the international level by the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada. ITK’s board of directors is made up of the leaders of the four regional Inuit representational organizations and governments: Inuvialuit Regional Corp., Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Makivik Corp. and the Nunatsiavut Government. In addition to voting members, the presidents of the following non-voting permanent participant representatives also sit on the board: Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada; Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada; and the National Inuit Youth Council.

Incremental Progress

Inuit made incremental progress in 2018 on advancing shared Inuit-Crown priorities. These priorities include facilitating reconciliation measures, such as securing apologies from the Government of Canada for past human rights abuses against Inuit, as well as financial commitments to help eliminate tuberculosis (TB) throughout Inuit Nunangat. The year included the release of the National Inuit Strategy on Research as well as the convening of the first-ever national Inuit forum on preventing child sexual abuse.

The limits and opportunities within the current government’s indigenous reconciliation agenda became clearer in 2018 amidst its efforts to advance several legislative, program and policy initiatives that directly impact Inuit Nunangat. These limits include the continued lack of action by the Government of Canada to meaningfully implement the

U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) nearly two years after its initial commitment to do so. Moreover, the federal government stumbled throughout 2018 in its efforts to complete key legislative and policy initiatives, including national First Nations, Inuit and Metis languages legislation as well as the Arctic Policy Framework.

Elections and leadership change

In 2018, elections and leadership changes took place among Inuit. The 13th General Assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) was convened in Utqiaġvik, Alaska in July. The ICC is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was founded in 1977 to advocate on behalf of the approximately 160,000 Inuit living in Chukotka (Russian Federation), Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Dalee Sambo Dorough of Alaska was appointed Chair of the ICC by the Alaska delegation for the 2018 to 2022 period.1 The Chair rotates between Alaska, Canada and Greenland every four years.

At the national level, Natan Obed of Nain, Nunatsiavut was re-elected president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) in August during the organization’s annual general meeting held in Inuuvik, Northwest Territories.2 The ITK president is elected for a three-year term by the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada, who acts as ITK’s vice president, the four voting members of the ITK board of directors, as well as two delegates from each of the four Inuit regions.

Inuit Circumpolar Council General Assembly

Sixty-six Inuit delegates from Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and Chukotka in the Russian Federation participated in the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s 13th General Assembly convened in Utqiaġvik, Alaska in July. Nineteen delegates from Canada participated in the event.

Delegates adopted the 2018 Utqiaġvik Declaration, which sets out actions in the following 10 priority areas that will guide the ICC’s work over the next four years: International Indigenous Human Rights and International Partnerships; Food Security; Families and Youth; Health and Wellness; Education and Language; Indigenous Knowledge; Sustainable Wildlife Management; Environment; Sustainable Development; and Communication and Capacity Building.3 The next ICC General Assembly will take place in Ilulissat, Greenland, in 2022.

Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee

The Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee (ICPC) was created in February 2017 in order to advance work on shared Inuit-Crown priorities through structured workplans. The ICPC is co-chaired by the president of ITK and the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. It is made up of the leaders of Inuit representative organizations and governments, as well as federal cabinet ministers. The ICPC convened three meetings in 2018, focusing on nine priority areas: Inuktut Language Revitalization, Maintenance, Protection and Promotion; Environment; Housing; Reconciliation Measures; Education; Early Learning and Skills Development; Inuit Nunangat Policy Space; and Inuit Land Claims Implementation.4

The ICPC met three times in 2018 and achieved the following outcomes:

Tuberculosis elimination framework: The 2018 federal budget included CAD $27.5 million over five years to eliminate TB throughout Inuit Nunangat as an outcome of ICPC discussions. In March, ITK and Indigenous Services Canada pledged to work together to eliminate TB throughout Inuit Nunangat by 2030. As a first step to achieving this goal, ITK released the Inuit Tuberculosis Elimination Framework in December 2018. The rate of TB among Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat in 2016 was over 300 times that of Canadian-born non-Indigenous people.5

Child First Initiative: The extension of the Child First Initiative to include Inuit was announced in September by ITK and the department of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). It stems from the Crown’s fiduciary responsibility to Inuit and is intended to support substantive equality by ensuring that Inuit children have access to the essential government-funded health, social and educational services available to other Canadian children. Further work on implementing the Initiative is being undertaken by the ISC in partnership with ITK.

Commitment to examine Inuit primary and secondary schooling: There is no national department of education in Canada or national education standards. With the exception of some self-governing First Nations, each province and territory is responsible for administering primary and secondary schooling and implementing their own education standards and curricula. The federal government administers specific primary and secondary school programs for First Nations on reserve but has traditionally declined to provide similar investments and support for Inuit. In November, the ICPC adopted a recommendation directing Inuit and the Crown to develop a proposal for targeted federal support in specific areas of Inuit primary and secondary school education, including IT/infrastructure; wraparound services and interventions; students with disabilities; and culture and language. This incremental step signals a possible departure from the existing federal position that Inuit primary and secondary schooling is within the sole jurisdiction of provincial and territorial governments.

Housing: Among Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat, 52 % live in crowded homes and almost one-in-three live in homes in need of major repair.6 The ICPC adopted the National Inuit Housing Strategy in November for release in 2019 as a key deliverable within the ICPC housing workplan. Through the strategy, the federal government and Inuit will work together to facilitate access to the federal government’s National Housing strategy investments. The overall goal of the Strategy is to improve housing outcomes in Inuit Nunangat in line with outcomes for the rest of Canada.

Release of the National Inuit Strategy on Research

ITK released the National Inuit Strategy on Research (NISR) in March. The purpose of the strategy is to promote a shared understanding of the legacy of Inuit Nunangat research and connect this legacy to the current research context; define Inuit expectations for the role of research in our regions and communities; and identify areas for partnership and action between Inuit and the wider research community. The NISR identifies five priority areas in which coordinated action by Inuit, governments and research institutions is necessary to facilitate Inuit Nunangat research that is effective, impactful and meaningful to Inuit. It identifies practical steps to advance Inuit self-determination in research as the means for fostering respectful and beneficial research that serves the needs and priorities of Inuit. The NISR’s objectives and actions are organized within the following five priority areas: advance Inuit governance in research; enhance the ethical conduct of research; align funding with Inuit research priorities; ensure Inuit access, ownership, and control over data and information; and build capacity in Inuit Nunangat research.

Continuing implementation of the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy

Implementation of the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy continued into its third year in 2018, culminating in November in the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse in Inuit Nunangat Forum. Child sexual abuse is a powerful risk factor for suicide, and the distressingly high prevalence of child sexual abuse among Inuit in Canada, Alaska and Greenland is linked to elevated rates of suicide.7 The forum, convened in Ottawa, was the first national Inuit gathering to focus on preventing child sexual abuse. It included participants from across Inuit Nunangat as well as from Greenland and was aimed at facilitating the sharing of promising practices for preventing child sexual abuse. Presentations included an overview of Greenland’s traveling psychological teams serving adult victims of childhood sexual abuse, specialized training for those interviewing child/youth victims of sexual abuse, and presentations focused on specific interventions such as Nunavik’s Good Touch Bad Touch program. A follow-up forum will be convened in the spring of 2019 which will focus on developing concrete pan-Inuit Nunangat actions to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse in Canada.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard create new Arctic region

In October, the department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard announced their intention to create a new operational region focused specifically on the Arctic and Inuit Nunangat to better serve the region’s majority Inuit population.8 The creation of the new Arctic region would mark a policy change from the way the operational region was previously constituted; it included the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, yet excluded Quebec and Nunatsiavut. The new operational region will be headquartered in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and stretch from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories to Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador. Its exact boundaries have not yet been finalized. The restructuring is intended to facilitate additional capacity for search and rescue, science and environmental monitoring driven by Inuit and indigenous priorities.

Liberal government stumbles on key legislative and policy initiatives

The department of Canadian Heritage continued work on co-developing national First Nations, Inuit and Metis languages legislation in partnership with representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, ITK and the Metis Nation throughout 2018, following the launch of this legislative initiative in July 2017. Inuit are seeking legislation that would include Inuktut-specific provisions that create new legal obligations and funding arrangements in support of Inuktut revitalization, maintenance and promotion. Inuit positions on legislative content have largely been ignored to date by the Government of Canada and Inuit are not optimistic that national legislation will build on existing rights for Inuktut at the provincial and territorial levels when and if it is introduced in 2019. Eighty-four percent of Inuit in Inuit Nunangat self-report an ability to speak Inuktut and the language is the most resilient indigenous language in Canada. However, less than half of Inuit said that Inuktut was the language used most often at home, the place where language is most likely to be passed on from one generation to the next.9

Similarly, release of the Government of Canada’s Arctic Policy Framework was further delayed throughout 2018, more than two years after the initiative was first announced by the prime minister in December 2016. Inclusion of an Inuit Nunangat chapter within the Arctic Policy Framework is a key deliverable of the ICPC, and Inuit expect the Framework to set out ambitious goals for action and investment.

In November, Indigenous Services Canada announced work on co-developing national child welfare legislation in partnership with ITK, the Assembly of First Nations and the Metis Nation. Inuit lack national data on the number of Inuit children in care, yet approximately 52 % of children in foster care in private homes in Canada are indigenous.10 The legislative initiative is seen by Inuit as an important step toward more comprehensive reform. The legislation is intended to be introduced to Parliament in early 2019.


Notes and references

  1. Arctic Today, “ICC Utqiagvik assembly closes with new leader and commitment to stronger Inuit voice,” Nunatsiaq News, 27 July 2018, accessed 19 February 2019, at http://bit.ly/2T7XJGA

  2. CBC News, “I’m honoured and humbled’: Natan Obed re-elected as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami,” CBC News, 16 August 2018, at http://bit.ly/2T2voBD

  3. Inuit Circumpolar Council, Utqiaġvik Declaration 2018, accessed February 19, 2019, at http://bit.ly/2T2wT2J

  4. nuit Tapiriit Kanatami, “Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee makes progress on shared priorities,” 29 March 2018, accessed 19 February 2019, at http://bit. ly/2T6bsO9

  5. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Inuit Tuberculosis Elimination Framework, November 2018, accessed February 19, 2019, at http://bit.ly/2Tbihyd

  6. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Inuit Statistical Profile 2018, 13, accessed 19 February 2019, at http://bit.ly/2T3cmuR

  7. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy, 21, accessed 19 February 2019, at http://bit.ly/2TblCNL

  8. Sarah Rogers, “Ottawa announces new Arctic regions for DFO, Coast Guard,” Nunatsiaq News, 24 October 2018, accessed 19 February 2019, at http://bit. ly/2T3lLm1

  9. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Inuit Statistical Profile 2018, accessed 19 February 2019, at http://bit.ly/2T3cmuR

  10. Government of Canada, “Reducing the number of Indigenous children in care,” accessed 19 February 2019, at http://bit.ly/2TbeVv6


Tim Aqukkasuk Argetsinger is Executive Political Advisor to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national representational organization for Inuit in Canada.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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