October 13, 2022
Check against delivery
I am delighted to be back in Reykjavik.
Over the years, in my previous professional life, I have visited Iceland many times to work with Arctic partners on circumpolar issues. It feels comfortably familiar to be here. Whenever I visit, I am always struck by the beauty of Iceland’s landscape and the resiliency of its people—not unlike my northern home in Canada.
As I contemplated this year’s agenda for the Arctic Circle Assembly, I recognized the echoes and evolution of many topics requiring knowledge exchange, debate and negotiation. I spent so many years of my life—long days and nights—on these very subjects.
Today, I am here as governor general of Canada to represent my country. I’m also here as an Indigenous person who calls the Arctic her home. I would like to thank Chairman Grimsson for inviting me to speak here today. Iceland has always been so welcoming, to me personally, and to our country. In fact, 2022 marks 75 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and Iceland.
Our two countries have very strong historic, cultural, geographic and people-to-people ties, including when it comes to the North. So I’m delighted to be able to participate in the 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly.
In attendance are over 115 Canadian participants—the largest number to ever attend the Arctic Circle Assembly. And I’m proud to see a strong representation of northern Canadian youth. Young people need to be sitting at the table, participating in dialogue. Their voice is integral to discussions on the future of the Arctic, which today has emerged as a global strategic region.
While the future of the circumpolar region remains bright, it also continues to face many challenges, some old and some new. And it will take all of us to ensure we remain on the right path for the benefit of northern Indigenous peoples and everyone who calls the Arctic home.
Canada, as you well know, is an Arctic nation, but it’s not the only Arctic nation.
Together, we are facing many challenges to ensure communities remain vibrant and resilient in a complex and modern world. These are just some of the issues we must contend with:
- The impact of climate change has taken on a greater urgency in my lifetime. A warming Arctic has far-reaching consequences not only for Indigenous peoples whose traditional life is changing as a result, but also for our planet, with melting ice resulting in rising ocean levels.
- Arctic and Indigenous peoples continue to advocate for the space and autonomy they need to reclaim and revitalize culture, languages and knowledge systems. Much of my life’s work has been to champion a renewed and healing relationship for Canada’s northern people, particularly Inuit.
- Sustainable development, defence and preservation. These issues show that there is more that links us than separates us. And that most of all, the history of the North, with chapters unique to every country and region, is nonetheless shared across borders.
This was something I realized early on in my career working on behalf of Inuit. All of us, across the circumpolar world, had common concerns. And there was power and empowerment in working together to address these challenges head on.
This principle—of co-operative approaches to addressing circumpolar challenges—was foundational for the formation of the Arctic Council in 1996.
I was Canada’s ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs at the time, and I worked with partners to bring together Arctic nations to tackle emerging circumpolar questions.
Since then, we have seen the Arctic Council play a convening role for states to negotiate legally binding agreements in such areas as science, search and rescue, and oil spill preparedness. Project co-operation under the Council has supported sustainable economic and social development, environmental protection in the Arctic and broader policy discussions beyond the Council.
Canada’s 2019 Arctic and Northern Policy Framework outlines our policy approach at home and abroad. Co-developed with provincial and territorial governments and Indigenous organizations, implementation of the Framework is contributing to a shared vision of a future where Arctic and northern people are thriving, strong and safe.
Earlier this year, Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark, together with Greenland, signed a new boundary agreement resolving long-standing maritime boundary disputes. This agreement demonstrates Canada’s commitment to the rules based international order and in maintaining our shared ambition of the Arctic as a region of international co-operation.
Commitment to circumpolar co-operation is also now the hallmark of many non-government, international and transnational institutions and networks tackling circumpolar challenges, many of whom are here in Reykjavik this week.
Simply put, co-operation is how people in the Arctic get work done.
Unfortunately, Russia’s unethical and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine has impacted global co-operation, halting a number of collaborative projects in the Arctic. But above all, our priority needs to be the Ukrainian people, whose lives have been shattered.
We cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis that Ukraine now faces as they continue to confront unimaginable trauma brought about by violent conflict. Neither can we ignore the threat that the Ukrainian people face to their sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. We must do everything in our power to condemn Russia’s illegal actions and continue to provide aid to Ukrainians.
But it’s never too late to hope for peace, to work towards an end to the conflict.
In the Arctic, there is no doubt that there are challenges. Yet, there are also opportunities ahead.
In Canada, I often use the word ajuinnata. It’s a word in Inuktitut that has great meaning for Inuit. It is persevering in the face of obstacles. It means to never give up.
In that spirit, and as northern partners, we must find ways to move forward—
To act now, when it is most critical.
To encourage dialogue and peace.
To respect the rule of law and international law.
To encourage collaboration between Arctic and non-Arctic nations
We must do all this, because what happens in the Arctic is not just of regional importance, but is of global importance.
Most of all, we must consider the people who live in the circumpolar regions. We each bring with us lived experiences that can inform our work.
I recall a UN event many years ago, where a senior delegate made the comment that the Arctic was a ‘place where nobody lives.’ An Inuk colleague in attendance later sought out the gentleman, extended his hand, and said, ‘Hello. I am nobody.’
And when I first began my work on circumpolar issues years ago, I often heard the term ‘wasteland’ in describing the Arctic. You can appreciate that I was never comfortable with that hurtful term. Since then, I try to share a vision of the North as a landscape of potential that captures the imagination and identity of millions of people who call it home. It is a land of beauty and contradiction.
Even with the complexity of Arctic challenges, I take comfort in knowing Inuit, and indeed all Northerners, have always viewed the Arctic as a zone of peace. There is a long history of working with the circumpolar family of nations and Indigenous groups to resolve common challenges and to take advantage of opportunities.
I know these values are shared by Indigenous peoples across the Arctic, as well as the nations who are working together to preserve and save our Arctic spaces.
Finally, as I leave you to your discussions, I want us to look to the next generation of Arctic leaders. Ask how our decisions can directly impact education, physical and mental health, and economic opportunities for the largest and youngest cohort of Arctic citizens.
I hope all of our young Arctic citizens who are here at the Arctic Circle Assembly—scientists, educators or community leaders—embrace the knowledge and opportunities presented to you this week.
When I look at you, I see citizens of proud Arctic nations and our allies in the hard but necessary tasks ahead. I see our future in you. You are inheriting a long continuum of co-operation among Arctic nations and with Indigenous peoples.
Let me repeat in Inuktitut, my mother tongue, because a sign of hope is being able to speak your own language, in Canada and in other Arctic regions:
You are citizens of proud Arctic nations, co-operating with each other and with Indigenous peoples towards a better tomorrow.
I am here, Canada is here, to walk the journey with you towards a better tomorrow.
The future lies with you. And so does our hope.