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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.

Shipping in a Changing Northern Climate: Where Do We Go From Here?

Jan 27, 2016
Kala Pendakur Kala Pendakur
Research Associate
Northern and Aboriginal Policy

The very climatic changes that are opening up Northern waters to exploration and shipping are the same changes that are making these activities more difficult.

Marine transportation plays a critical role in the quality of life of Canada’s Northern residents. Due to the vast distances between communities, as well as their isolation from Southern Canada, the ability to transport goods via waterways to Northerners has a direct impact on the cost of living, food security, community resilience, economic growth, safety and security, and on their ability to fully participate in the economy. Moreover, numerous economic activities and opportunities, including oil and gas exploration and development, mining, tourism, and fisheries, all rely to some degree on shipping.

However, while marine shipping is more cost-effective than air shipping, it is often hampered by a lack of port infrastructure and difficult navigation conditions. And sea and ice conditions are only getting more challenging as operators face the new realities of climate change.

The eyes of the world are on climate change. Just this past year, COP21 in Paris brought world leaders together to discuss the current and future impacts of a changing climate. As temperatures continue to warm and water conditions continue to change, a fundamental question must be asked: What is the role of individuals, organizations, and policy-makers in helping marine operators ensure efficient and safe shipping in the North?

Answering this question begins with a better understanding of the climatic changes that are occurring and their impacts on marine transportation.

A quick analysis points to several important climatic impacts. Warming temperatures have caused permafrost1 degradation, which in turn has impacted coastal infrastructure and facilities. Sea-level falls have caused navigation issues due to reduced depth under a ship’s keel, while sea-level rises have contributed to more wave action, coastal erosion, and an increase in ice movements. Out on the water, changing ice conditions combined with high winds have led to ice bunching into choke points. These are just some of the changes that operators have to deal with.

Moving forward, adaptations to vessels and marine infrastructure, as well as policy adaptations, will be key.

Companies are well aware of the dangers of shipping in the Arctic, and several organizations have carried out winter-operation risk assessments and ship-specific winterization procedures to mitigate risks. In many cases, damage to vessels can be prevented by careful route planning and operational prudence. Beyond planning, operators may have to make more active changes, such as reinforcing their ships to withstand heavy ice.

Adaptations to marine facilities will depend greatly on the unique local water conditions that communities are facing. For instance, in areas with high water levels and incidence of storm surge, or areas with high coastal erosion, it may be necessary to construct sea defence structures to limit damage. In contrast, areas with falling water levels may need to dredge harbours. This is costly; dredging operations require substantial financial resources that communities and governments may not have. An estimate of the cost to dredge a channel for Tuktoyaktuk that would allow cargo service directly via ocean vessels would exceed $100 million.2

Successful marine navigation will depend on a wide range of efforts, including a coordinated approach by federal government departments. To aid safe marine transportation, governments would need to offer services such as producing navigational charts, deploying and maintaining navigational aids, providing weather and ice information, providing ice breaking services, and surveillance and monitoring of marine traffic.

Beyond federal government support, support from organizations such as the Arctic Council, which in 2009 released the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, will be useful moving forward.3

Northerners are well aware of the climate changes that are occurring in the North, and adaptation initiatives and research at the community level will be important in addressing these changes. The adaptation practices mentioned above are by no means comprehensive. The myriad of climatic changes occurring in the North will require numerous multi-faceted adaptation practices that are researched and implemented by various organizations.

We still have a lot of work to do to better understand the challenges and opportunities occurring in Northern waters. Moving forward, government can aid marine transporters by ensuring that Canadian waters are charted accurately, ice breaking services are available, and navigation aids (such as beacons) are in place as required. A robust transportation system and strategy in the North is an economic necessity. And while challenges associated with a changing climate are inconvenient, they are not insurmountable.

We touch on some of the economic opportunities and challenges that exist in Northern waters in our report Changing Tides: Economic Development in Canada’s Northern Marine Waters, and will be discussing this topic at the upcoming 2016 Northern Lights Conference.


1    Permafrost is characterized as ground that stays below 0°C for a minimum of two consecutive years.

2    Det’on Cho Stantec. Change and Challenge: Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the GNWT Department of Transportation (Yellowknife: Det’on Cho Stantec, 2013).

3    Arctic Council. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Report (Tromsø, Norway: Arctic Council, 2009).

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