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Collective responsibility to Canada’s arctic

Governor General Mary Simon speaks about Indigenous reconciliation, policy making, and climate change at the Tom Courchene Distinguished Speaker Series.

On April 12, Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, served as the guest speaker for the Tom Courchene Distinguished Speaker Series. Her Excellency, who has international recognition for her work on Arctic and Indigenous issues, spoke about our collective responsibility as a country to the North, climate change, and reconciliation.

This annual event is held by Queen’s School of Policy Studies and this year’s discussion “Through the Eyes of the North: Our Collective Responsibility” was focused on Canada’s Arctic. The virtual event was hosted by Robert Watts, an Adjunct Professor and Distinguished Fellow at Queen’s, who is an expert in Indigenous policy, negotiations, training, and conflict resolution.

“By seeing our country through the eyes of the Arctic, a successful and prosperous Canada includes robust and sustainable northern communities. It includes contributions from Inuit and other Indigenous peoples. And, it includes policies that bolster and address the wide-ranging challenges of living in the North,” said Her Excellency.

These challenges include rising food prices and food insecurity in the North, high suicide rates, disproportionately low pay, and low high school graduation rates for Indigenous peoples in the North. Her Excellency pressed the importance of acting now and working with Arctic communities.

“Reconciliation is not one project, nor does it have an end date. It is a continuing process of understanding and respect. We must pursue partnerships and policy-making that includes reconciliation. We must commit to building and restoring relationships, to seeing things differently than before, and to valuing Indigenous knowledge. We must also examine policy approaches for nature and environmental conservation in the Arctic. This is particularly vital as we continue to confront climate change,” said Her Excellency.

She spoke about how those in the North are greatly impacted by climate change, despite not being the ones who caused it. She said there is a lot that can be learned from Inuit and Indigenous knowledge in understanding human relationships with the land, nature, and the environment. Her Excellency said those in the North want to be part of the solution for climate change mitigation, which she sees happening by working with people in those fields to bring about decision making in a different way.

This virtual event series serves as a bridge between the academic and professional policy communities, to engage faculty, students, policymakers, politicians, and other opinion leaders in a discussion on major policy issues. The metaphor of a bridge was used throughout the online session, including as a way to move our country forward and Her Excellency’s role as a bridge builder. The event ended with Her Excellency sharing her hopes for the future.

“I hope to see the place where we live, called Canada that not only aspires to be a better country, but is a better country. Where people can live safely, people can live side by side without judgement, people can live with equal opportunity—whether it be education or other services that we take for granted as Canadians,” said Her Excellency. “Having a place where our stories are being told—to teach our children a history that may or may not always be good, but a history that is true. Telling the truth is very important. Telling the history of the country to our children is so important…when our children grow up and become leaders of Canada, they will have a better understanding of what this country is all about. They will have a better sensitivity to the people who live here—including Indigenous people, the original people of this land. We will be able to have a place in our country where we truly belong without giving up who we are.”

A recording of the event is now available on the School of Policy Studies YouTube channel.