Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) has represented the interests of the Inuit of Canada at the national level since its incorporation in 1972. Working primarily as a lobbying organization, ITK has been actively involved in a wide range of issues some of which have proven to be of critical importance in enabling Inuit to pursue their aspirations and take control of their destinies. A key example of such an issue was the initial planning and strategizing of Inuit land claims that took place within ITK during the early years of its existence. Within the foreseeable future, the last of the Inuit land claims agreements will be signed in Labrador, closing an important chapter in the modern history of Inuit in Canada. ITK also played a primary role in the constitutional talks and in presenting information to a number of commissions including the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
ITK continues to be active in a number of policy areas to ensure Inuit rights and interests are both protected and promoted. Priority policy areas are often identified through the initiatives or concerns originating at the community, regional or national level or in response to specific government actions. ITK keeps apprised of concerns at the community and regional levels through its Board of Directors as well as through more direct consultations with regional and community-based organizations. Ensuring that the two-way flow of communication is open and smooth is a priority for the organization and a key means by which it can respond to the needs and aspirations of Inuit across Canada.
The following section provides an overview of some of the major policy areas that ITK is currently involved in. To find out more about the current activities of ITK, please refer to the latest annual report and other sections of this web site.
Perhaps the most important initiative currently being undertaken by ITK is the Inuit Action Plan (IAP). In the past, Inuit have had many of their needs and priorities addressed by programs and policies that were developed for First Nations and other aboriginal groups. In general, no direct consultations were held with Inuit, nor were any special considerations made within the government programs or policies to take into account the unique circumstances and challenges Inuit face. Increasingly, Inuit at the community and regional levels began voicing their dissatisfaction with this state of affairs and ITK raised the issue with the federal government. The IAP is a strategy to renew the relationship between the federal government and Inuit by enabling the development of programs and policies that are Inuit-specific and are developed in consultation with Inuit. ITK will continue to utilize its lobbying and negotiation expertise to work with federal partners to explore ways this goal can most effectively be achieved.
The protection and promotion of Inuit culture and language is another key priority area for ITK. The organization keeps informed about government initiatives and policies impacting upon aboriginal languages and coordinates the Inuit response to these initiatives. For example, the current Aboriginal Language Initiative, ITK, with regional support, negotiated with the federal government to enable the Inuit regions to review proposals and make decisions on how program funding would be allocated.
A rapidly expanding area of activity for ITK has been in the area of health policy. Inuit currently face a number of hurdles in accessing adequate health care services. To identify priorities and strategies for addressing health issues, ITK established a Health Committee comprised of representatives from each region as well as from Pauktuutit, the Inuit Women's Association, and the Nunavut Social Development Council. Through the Committee, ITK works with various government, non-government and aboriginal organizations to reduce barriers to access for Inuit and to develop programs and policies that enable Inuit health needs to be met.
ITK, the Assembly of First Nations and Health Canada have formed a Joint Committee to develop a process to review the current health care system. The Committee takes a holistic approach to the development of community-based strategies for Health Renewal. This reflects the position of Inuit that a person's health is affected by a variety of different factors that all need to be considered when developing a health strategy.
ITK also participates in a number of working groups and committees that focus upon specific health issues. To date, these have included diabetes, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects, home care, accident prevention, nutrition, non-insured health benefits and a host of other important health issues. ITK also makes presentations to various committees involved in health. For examples, ITK made an important presentation to the Romanow Commission in March 2002, regarding the sustainability of the health care system in Canada. The focus of ITK's work in the area of health is to share information about Inuit health care needs and priorities while working with them to develop policies and programs that enable Inuit to more easily access health care services.
Since the very early days of ITK, a major area of concern has been environmental protection and the conservation of the land's resources. This concern is a direct reflection of the priority Inuit across the country have to treat the land and its resources with respect, and to preserve them for future generations. In the past, the Arctic region was left relatively unaffected by much of the pollution and other effects of industrialization. This century, however, has seen the Arctic increasingly affected by global pollution, climate change and a host of other effects that impact upon the fragile Arctic ecosystem. These effects have already begun to impact Inuit health and the resources upon which Inuit continue to depend.
ITK has been involved in a number of initiatives that have addressed issues affecting the Arctic environment. A major initiative has been its involvement in the Northern Contaminants Program (NCP). ITK sits on the NCP Management Committee which reviews and assesses contaminant information, technical and policy advice to politicians and Inuit Organizations and assists in setting Inuit priorities regarding contaminants issues. The establishment of Regional Contaminant Coordinators in each region ensures that Inuit communities are kept aware of information and initiatives while also enabling them to voice their concerns and priorities in regards to environmental research projects in their area.
The quality and nutrition of traditional foods in the Arctic has also been a concern for Inuit. Certain contaminants can build up in the food chain to levels that can be harmful for humans. ITK has worked on a number of initiatives that have focused upon levels of "country food" and store-bought food consumed in communities. This information helped develop advice for communities by assessing how Inuit diets contribute to their exposure to contaminants.
In regards to wildlife, ITK has been active in a number of initiatives that concern wildlife resources of importance to Inuit. In particular, ITK coordinated an Inuit response to draft legislation leading to the new Species at Risk Act. In close cooperation with Inuit regional representatives and legal resource people, ITK worked hard to ensure the Act considered Inuit interests and priorities.
ITK also extends considerable effort in working with government and non-government agencies on a wide variety of issues including the Sustainable Communities Initiative, the International Unions for the Conservation of Nature, gun control and the fur issue.
Through its history, ITK has lobbied on behalf of the Inuit of Canada. The list of issues has grown considerably in its complexity and breadth, but ITK continues to work closely with the Inuit regions and communities to ensure its activities reflect the needs and priorities of all Inuit.