Leona Aglukkaq on northern perspectives and whether the EU belongs in the Arctic Council - Macleans.ca

Leona Aglukkaq on northern perspectives and whether the EU belongs in the Arctic Council

The health minister and Arctic Council chair in conversation with Luiza Ch. Savage


Chris Wattie/Reuters

As she takes over chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Aglukkaq spoke with Luiza Ch. Savage on her new role, her childhood in Nunavut and her take on the European Union’s bid for observer status:

Q: As someone who is of the North, who grew up there, how does that shape the perspective you bring to chairing the Arctic Council?

A: I was so very thrilled when the Prime Minister asked me if I would consider the chairmanship. I’m from the Arctic, I work in the Arctic, I live in the Arctic. Sometimes I feel—not just at the Arctic Council but at other forums—that there are people talking about the Arctic, the wildlife, the climate, without ever having ever set foot on the ground and met the people who live there year in, year out, for years and years. I am hoping that, during my time at the Arctic Council, I would be able to bridge some of those gaps and put a voice to the people who live in the Arctic.

Q: What was it like growing up in the Arctic? I understand you didn’t have electricity until you were eight years old.

A: It was peaceful. We lived off the land. My family lived around the Thom Bay area, north of Taloyoak [in Nunavut]. We moved into the community of Spence Bay in the 1970s, and that was the first time I saw structures—buildings, power, power plants. We didn’t have cars. We didn’t have roads. We walked on the tundra from the Thom Bay area to the community with our dogs and our supplies.

Q: How do you get through winter without electricity?

A: We lived in igloos. We had our oil lamps that we call kudlik. The oil was seal fat: that was our diesel. It’s what kept us alive—the seal fat and the animal clothing, like seal, bear and caribou. The fur was used for making our pants, clothes, mittens and our tents. Everything was used. Nothing was ever wasted.

Q: There is a debate about whether the European Union should be allowed to become a permanent observer at the Arctic Council. Some Inuit have said that because of its recent ban on seal products, the EU is not showing respect for Inuit and should not be allowed in. Is that a big enough concern to keep the EU from joining?

A: The criteria that were approved in 2011 in Nuuk, Greenland, said that any country applying must demonstrate respect for the indigenous people’s way of life. It’s huge for us. We don’t say, “Look, you need to stop eating your cow or lamb,” or “You can’t use cow leather for your fine purse or shoes.” We don’t impose that on other cultures, so why are Inuit a constant target? As an Inuk person who depends on the environment where I’m from for my well-being, it’s insulting. These are very legitimate concerns about the EU. I am going to be examining all the applications on the criteria we approved in Nuuk. The applicants know full well what the criteria are.

Q: Some people say the Arctic should be internationalized, that it’s part of a “common heritage of mankind,” and that climate impacts of the ice cap melting are felt around the world. Are those good reasons to have countries as far away as China and South Korea sit at the table?

A: In my view, it’s not enough of an argument. This is not the South Pole. Canada’s Arctic is Canada’s Arctic. There are people in the North who live there all year round. We are not a giant park. This is Arctic sovereignty for us. We need to make sure the Arctic nations have a very strong voice in the forum to share and collaborate.

Q: If you could bring international visitors to see one thing in the North, what would it be?

A: The people. There are people that live up here and we are never the subject of conversation. We hear about the bear, the seal, and nobody ever talks about the people. No one ever talks about the human impact of decisions being made outside the Arctic. I would introduce them to the people.



Leona Aglukkaq on northern perspectives and whether the EU belongs in the Arctic Council

  1. So, no Questions on her role as the Minister of Health? Really?

  2. fantastic !!!! way to go Harper – imagine this a PM of Canada actually delegates the most appropriate person in the most appropriate position. Leona is a fascinating woman and has done an exceptional job as minister – remember a few years back when the opposition was freaking out about H1n1 and accusing her of everything under the sun and using tragedy as a political weapon. Leona was the only with a cool head and able to make the right decisions for the right reasons. Imagine a woman leader from the north now minister of health and chairing this council – very and I mean very impressive – makes the EU people look just plain silly for their political agenda – she is so right about theiir hypocrisy and I wholly support her position – she also makes the haters who no doubt will be thumbing me down and leaving the usually nonsense postings here soon – however – she is so obviously the right person for the right job she makes haters look ridiculous!

    • “Leona was the only with a cool head and able to make the right decisions for the right reasons”
      No. She has avoided making any decisions, aboloishing a research study on salt levels before the report she commissioned was finished, then setting voluntary sodium levels for foods. She has overseen the deconstruction of food label enforcement, and your example of H1N1 is incorrect. In fact, her department failed to ensure vaccines were sent in appropriate size boxes from the manufacturer, which caused huge problems in the provincial supply chains. She also waffled on whetheer the adjuvant vaccine was safe for pregnant women, saying yes, then no, then yes. She has made no policy, and has been industry’s best friend throughout her tenure. And every sentence she reads in the House of Commons is printed and approved by the PMO. She might as well be a cabbage.

      • Weak and disappointing, as a minister of health and also as an indigenous person in a position of power and authority. She fails everyone, equally.

    • Total Crap, she’s a hood winking bush wag

  3. So I see from your twitter feed that you are in fact aware of, at the very least, the story of the IRS singling out conservatives & Jews for extra scrutiny, and forwarding their confidential details to liberal outlets. I would assume you are aware of the DOJ going after the phone records of the AP? Benghazi?

    You cover the US for Maclean’s. Right?

    So…what? Just…not going to do your job today?

    • Maybe she’s working on a story right this minute! Also, maybe she doesn’t have to take her work orders from angry muppets.