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Centre for the North Blogs

Constructive steps towards Indigenizing professional engineering by Jane Cooper, Senior Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada | October 2020

You look at mining companies, or any natural resource extraction … and one of the primary types of conflicts that they have is with Indigenous people. That is happening because there is this massive cultural and knowledge gap between the science people and Indigenous people. In engineering, we would hugely benefit from a class on treaties. Because no matter where you go, you're going to deal with project management that has to do with Indigenous land, or Indigenous people, or Indigenous treaties.

Health emergencies in Indigenous communities in Canada: Then and now

Pandemics and diseases loom large in the history of Indigenous groups in Canada. Past outbreaks have had devastating outcomes, fueled by colonial policies and persistent inequalities.

Today, Indigenous communities are both receiving and giving support to counter COVID-19. But it is important that the current public health response acknowledges their history. By examining past pandemics, we can better understand how Indigenous communities are experiencing the current crisis.

Inclusive growth is more than jobs and GDP by Oana Spinu, Senior Research Associate and Adam Fiser, Associate Director at The Conference Board of Canada | June 2020

It is about dignity and quality of life through self-determination and sustainable livelihoods.

In a world shaken by the pandemic crisis and social inequality, many voices are now calling for measures to build a more inclusive society and economy. In Canada’s North, Inuit have been developing their own vision of inclusive growth, one where they share the same quality of life as all Canadians. Inclusive growth is more than jobs and GDP. It is about dignity and quality of life through self-determination and sustainable livelihoods.

Responding to COVID-19—Indigenous communities can’t be expected to do more with less by Stefan Fournier, Director, Indigenous and Northern Communities, The Conference Board of Canada | May 2020

When Canada’s rural and remote Indigenous communities face emergencies, they often lack the resources and supports common to most Canadian towns and cities. But despite being at a comparative disadvantage, these communities generally manage to respond. They do this by using their strengths—by relying on informal practices, traditional knowledge, local skills, and on each other.

It is remarkable what First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities can do with little to work with. Many communities are again looking to their strengths and ingenuity, as they face the threat of COVID-19. But should we be expecting these communities to do more with less? Does this produce optimal outcomes?

Fast-Tracked Innovations: Could COVID-19 Accelerate Health Technologies in Canada’s North?
by Ken Coates, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation and Carin Holroyd, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan and Joelena Leader, Research Facilitator, Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan | April 2020

The coronavirus crisis of 2020 has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian health care system. This is particularly true in Canada’s North, where isolated Indigenous communities face the prospects of widespread infection with great anxiety. The remoteness of Northern settlements—coupled with serious housing shortages, overcrowded homes, and limited health care services—heighten the dangers of the pandemic.

Addressing the causes of Indigenous vulnerability to pandemics—not just the symptoms
by Oana Spinu, Senior Research Associate I, The Conference Board of Canada and Jordan Wapass, Principal Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada | March 2020

Many have rightfully called for decisive government action to ensure that Indigenous communities have essential resources to respond to COVID-19. In response to the immediate needs of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, the federal government announced $305 million for a distinctions-based Indigenous Communities Support Fund. Only time will tell how effective the fund will be in empowering communities to deal with the crisis.

Put Northerners' Interests at Forefront of Northern Development

Jun 17, 2015
Adam Fiser
Adam Fiser
Senior Research Associate
Northern and Aboriginal Policy
Brent DowDall

Senior Writer
Forecasting and Analysis Division

Many of Canada’s pressing socio-economic, political, and environmental challenges are at their most intense in the North. Blessed with natural resource endowments, the North has lots of potential for economic growth. But this does not mean that natural resource development automatically leads to sustainable Northern community development. How we prepare and plan for growth in the North will largely determine how that growth benefits Northerners for generations to come.

This reality presents one fundamental question: How can all partners in Northern development successfully plan for economic growth in a way that is sustainable and beneficial to the peoples of the North—today and in the future?

Initiating and sustaining a broad-based response to that question has been a mission of The Conference Board of Canada since 2009. The recently-published compendium report of the Centre for the North, Building a Resilient and Prosperous North, affirms that the challenges to overcome are complex and interrelated, but they are not insurmountable.

Meeting these challenges requires, broadly, an acceptance of the unique realities of the North. Not only are Northern and Southern Canada vastly different, but the provincial and territorial Northern regions themselves vary in terms of geography and climate, demographics and culture, economic resources and business potential, and governance structures and public services, to name just a few.

Like all Canadians, Northerners value a secure Canadian Arctic. But the security dimensions that matter to Northerners have less to do with issues of national sovereignty and more to do with the challenges their communities face to meet basic needs, and anticipate and adapt to adversity—be it economic, social, political, or environmental. This concern forms the backbone of strategies to create a more resilient North. Such strategies will also do much to advance Canada's Arctic sovereignty by strengthening the communities that occupy its frontier.

The Conference Board of Canada's economic forecasts show that the mining and resource development outlook in many Northern regions remains promising, if unpredictable. Several mines have opened in recent years across the territories and in the Northern regions of several provinces. Over the next five years, additional mines are expected to boost mining output sharply. At the same time, other Northern regions are struggling to respond to the closure of mines that formed the economic backbone of their communities. Without a diversified economic base and options to remobilize, many workers and businesses in these communities will be forced to leave.

Reaping the benefits of Northern economic development opportunities requires foresight and planning. They also cannot be fully realized without placing the interests of Northerners and Aboriginal peoples at the forefront. A majority of Northerners welcome resource development projects when they are implemented in a sustainable manner. Northerners recognize that major projects have positive effects on Northern economies; auxiliary industries—such as services and construction—benefit from the increased level of activity.

Moving Forward: Three Priorities

Putting Northern interests at the forefront of policy, business, and community decision-making requires a focus on the vital factors that will lead to success for Northerners. The research of the Centre for the North has found three high-priority areas to focus efforts to build a resilient and prosperous North—Aboriginal youth, infrastructure renewal, and governance. Each of these high-priority areas is a critical success factor for Canadian Northern development. Moreover, as the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board (NAEDB) highlighted in its latest Aboriginal economic progress report, a clearer focus on Aboriginal youth, infrastructure, and governance would generally benefit Canada's Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal Youth

The health and success of Aboriginal youth are, as former Prime Minister Paul Martin recently said, a moral issue for Canada. Many Northern Aboriginal youth face intense life stressors and severe health and wellness challenges. In addition to experiencing personal hardship, Aboriginal youth often have limited access to the education and skills-development programs they need for successful employment in their Northern regions. At the same time, Northern employers, across multiple sectors, report that they struggle to attract, develop, and retain skilled workers.

Tackling the challenges that Aboriginal youth face in achieving their potential involves an enormously complex range of interdependent issues—notably housing, educational opportunities, civic engagement, and cultural preservation. Providing early childhood interventions and family services are essential first steps, but these must be part of a continuity of support that nurtures the child's growth into a healthy adolescent and responsible adult.


Infrastructure renewal is a second high-priority area. The inadequate state of regional and community infrastructure—not only roads, airports, and ports, but also telecommunications, broadband Internet, and community facilities—threatens Northern sustainability and prosperity. Building infrastructure will be costly, which calls for open and creative approaches to financing that include public, private, and non-profit stakeholders—both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. In addition to the need for financial resources, it will be important to direct financing options to the right kinds of projects. Above all, this means identifying and financing infrastructure projects and plans with strong economic, social, and environmental returns on investment.


Planning and implementing effective solutions to Northern challenges require effective governance. Increasingly, the balance of Northern governance has shifted to community, regional, and Aboriginal governments. While liberating for Northerners, the forces shaping this third high-priority area also put increasing pressure on their capacity to administer Northern public services and plan for the future. Local community champions have many of the solutions to Northern problems in health, education, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable economic development. But Northern leaders have a more fundamental problem: on any given day, there is simply too much to do and not enough people to do the work. Northern governments are still implementing decisions made 20 or more years ago—which often includes basic services—leaving little time to prepare for future growth opportunities in a timely way. Furthermore, Northern policy-making exists in a "politics of smallness"; thus program development and evaluation at provincial and federal levels need to account for the realities of Northern Canadian life.

Good governance is a critical success factor in ensuring that all the necessary stakeholders of Northern development cooperate and contribute their best to solving the complex challenges at hand. More fundamentally, the capacity of Northerners to self-govern must be given careful consideration, and they must have sufficient resources to do so.

Canada's North is a region of great beauty and promise. It is also fraught with economic, environmental, and social risks. Ensuring that communities can seize opportunities as well as survive and adapt to challenges will help them prosper and grow. This, in turn, will enable Canada to move forward as a Northern nation by solidifying its sovereignty, improving its security, and realizing its economic potential in the North.

Related Webinar

Reconciliation and Relationships: Building the Basis
of Productive Corporate-Aboriginal Relations

The Conference Board of Canada, June 24, 2015 at 03:00 PM EDT

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Stefan Fournier

Jo-Leen Folz
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