February 3, 2023

Check against delivery


Although I’m sorry I can’t be with you today, I still wanted to speak to you, as the work you’re doing here is vital. The future, as you know, depends on the health of our oceans.

Thank you to the organizers for inviting me to address IMPAC5.

Let me first share with you the story of Inuit.

Over millennia, Inuit have lived near the ocean, in harmony with animals and seasons. In fact, 50 per cent of Canada’s coastline is in Inuit Nunangat. The ocean and the marine environment is part of our way of life. It’s central to our identity, our perception of the world, our stories and even our language, based on thousands of years of experience, knowledge and observations.

I grew up in Nunavik, and I remember how the water sustained my family and community. Without water, or ice, we were isolated. That’s the reality in remote regions; there’s no road systems to other areas. Back then, the primary connection was by boat in the summer and by dog team in the winter. Today, it’s by boat and snowmobile. That’s an integral part of northern life.

The water was also a place to provide for our families. It provides much of the food source. Essential protein, omega oils and nutrients come from the oceans and the rivers, with fish and other marine life. It sustains us and it’s how we can continue to live in the north and the Arctic.

I share this with you because I learned something important very early in life: the ocean is not just important to humanity, it is a human right. It is essential to our existence and justifiably belongs to every person.

We are all entitled to a healthy ocean.

More than 120 countries are represented at the Congress. We all recognize the monumental task ahead of us: to preserve our oceans so that we have a future.

But no matter our difference in language or land mass, culture or climate, our oceans connect us. Advancing marine conservation must be an inclusive exercise that aims to support the unique and often at risk heritage and environment of coastal communities and island nations. These places rely on the oceans to support culture, language, social well-being and economies. Their future requires us to come together and meet our global nature and climate imperatives.

It is clear that we need a global approach to this global issue.

And we cannot delay in acting.

A healthy ocean is essential for our survival, yet, we have not always treated it that way. We’ve become experts at taking from the ocean—whether it’s food, resources or minerals—but we have failed to give back in equal measure. And what we do give back—in plastics or noise or pollutants—is damaging. We desperately need balance.

We need to think three dimensionally about the ocean, what it gives us, what we put back and what the future holds.

After all, we are all connected to the ocean: socially, culturally and economically.

Let’s look at the lobster industry in Canada, for example. About $3 billion worth of lobster is exported every year. As temperatures rise in our oceans, the lobsters may not be content to stay in their traditional territory. They will move to find a more temperate place to live. They will not be the only marine animal to do so.

Or consider how climate change is also melting ice and glaciers in the Arctic. For Inuit, this means that the traditional way of life is being disrupted and destroyed.

That same ice melt is also raising water levels, endangering coastal communities and island nations.

Tuvalu, for example, is building a digital version of its country to preserve its history, culture and language. If things continue on this course, there is a good chance the nation will be submerged by the end of the century.

But hope still exists, and I want to encourage all of you to turn that hope into action.

Already we are working together. As we continue cross-border collaboration, and as we try to change our habits, I would encourage us to ask how close can we get to every ocean—every waterway—being sustainable, protected and ready to support humanity, now and for generations to come?

We must identify areas of extreme stress and recognize the challenges ahead before it’s too late.

We must recognize where we are falling short.

We must work with global co-operation to address ocean security.

And we must forge a greater understanding of how oceans influence us and how we influence the oceans.

In Canada, and in other countries, that requires us to consider this relationship in regional, cultural and linguistic terms. And it requires Canada to think about its relationship with Indigenous people and with the land we call home.

More Canadians, and more people around the world, need to understand how connected we are and how our actions are impacting ocean health. We need to further education beyond those attending this Congress and beyond experts in the field. We need to have the support of the public on these issues which are not easily faced, and may require large changes in the way we think and the way we do things.

In this way, we improve not only the oceans and our climate, but also food security, governance, energy, national security and much more.

It begins by meeting our global goals for ocean protection. It begins by building partnerships not only with coastal communities, but also with Indigenous peoples, who have been stewards of this land longer than anyone. They can teach us what we need to know.

For the longest time, the term “Indigenous-led conservation” was not readily accepted. Today, we recognize the important work Indigenous peoples have done to protect our environment. It’s past time we listened to their wisdom.

The future of nature and our planet requires partnerships with Indigenous peoples. The answers to some of our challenges can be found in their traditional knowledge. I also believe that partnering with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples on marine conservation is a real way to advance reconciliation in Canada.

The Nauttiqsuqtiit Inuit Steward program, for example, are the eyes and ears in communities in the Qikiqtani Region. They manage the marine areas by monitoring the ecological health of the region, and by promoting the use of traditional Inuit knowledge. They also provide for the communities they serve by safely harvesting these areas and sharing what they catch.

In B.C., there is the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative, an alliance of First Nations on the Pacific North Coast who set out to have greater access to resources and a larger say in how they are managed.

Since its inception, members have worked to reach innovative agreements with the provincial government to ensure that Coastal First Nations take an active role in developing a conservation-based economy. This includes planning for the best and most responsible uses of the water.

I hope that all of us—Canadians, but also all our friends at IMPAC5—can embrace the spirit of Indigenous-led conservation.

The ocean is a transformative power, and we can be as well, if we come together, if we set our goals, if we are bold in action and thought. We can turn the tide.

I encourage you to learn, share and get to work on healing our waters. Look not just at short-term gains, but also long-term planning. What actions can we take today that will heal our waters a century or more from now?

This task cannot wait, and, though difficult, I know we can succeed. I wish you the very best in all your efforts.

Thank you.