Anja Jeffrey, Adam Fiser, & Stefan Fournier

The Canadian North has become a focal point for debates about our national sovereignty, security, and economic prosperity. But far more than a frontier for resource development and border disputes, the North is a homeland for many Aboriginal peoples. Across three coasts, it encompasses a diversity of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities. While there is growing national interest in transforming the North through economic development, science, and high technology, many Northerners continue to pursue traditional lifestyles alongside the wage economy. This blending of traditional and modern is both a source of conflicts, and a driver of some remarkable innovations. Our work has sought to understand how Northerners best cope with and capitalize on their opportunities and challenges. What we have found is that one of the most important conditions for a prosperous North is the presence of healthy and resilient communities. Resilient, healthy communities are capable of addressing local level goals and needs, and are vital to our nation’s sovereignty, security, and economic prosperity.

This vision of a secure, prosperous, and resilient North is one that emphasizes an active policy role for capable Northern communities. We believe that Northern communities are much more than endpoints for service delivery and policy programming. At their best, they are sources of personal and collective resilience – places where local community governments, businesses, and civil society, are actively engaged in supporting their members' well-being, and in steering the major projects that are realizing Canada’s Northern economic potential. It is this kind of community presence that bolsters our Arctic sovereignty.

 

In emphasizing the importance of resilience for Northern communities, we stand in good company. Among circumpolar nations, and increasingly across the globe, community resilience projects have introduced a new and more encompassing policy perspective on effective community governance, emergency management and risk reduction. In emergency management and risk reduction fields, resilience refers to a community’s ability to not only survive and absorb a disruption, such as a severe weather event, but also to anticipate adversity and creatively adapt to potential changes and losses. This latter aspect of resilience, the ability to anticipate and adapt to adversity, is critical to our understanding of effective Northern policy.

It can be difficult for small, remote communities to deliver effective public policy. Our research shows that resilience-based strategies can help leverage community government and local resources to better serve the needs of members.

Building Northern resilience requires a comprehensive approach. The goal is to attend to root causes before they become immediate crises. To this end, resilience initiatives should be horizontal and inclusive of the roles that non-governmental actors can play. From a policy practice standpoint, resilience-based strategies help to align the scarce resources of federal and regional programs with the resources, intelligence and understanding of decision-makers who are operating on the frontlines of Northern development. This comprehensive, whole-of-society approach is what best enables Northern decision-makers, workers, entrepreneurs, families, Elders, and youth to work together in solving common problems.

A comprehensive approach to community resilience must also encompass preventive measures that can positively and cumulatively impact long-term development. One major facet of our research has been the health and wellness of Northern Aboriginal children and youth. Early childhood interventions for example, can demonstrably increase personal resilience. Such interventions include family planning and activities that foster protective factors such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, positive and culturally enriching early childhood education experiences, nurturing family and community relations, cultural continuity, and academic achievements. Then, as the child matures, more and different opportunities need to be available to strengthen the resilience of youth; including, in particular, social empowerments that encourage personal responsibility, self-efficacy, and civic engagement. Our work has explored how these capabilities can develop through youth leadership forums, land-based camps, organized sports, and volunteering opportunities.

These initiatives are preventive and holistic in that they seek to strengthen the child’s chances of becoming a healthy, happy, and productive adult who will pass on his or her strengths to the next generation. In essence, the resilient child is better prepared for the challenges of youth. The resilient youth is better prepared to take on the greater responsibilities and challenges of adulthood.

The North is breathtaking and replete with opportunity. Yet it can also be a harsh and demanding place in which to live. Ensuring that communities can seize opportunities as well as survive and adapt to economic, environmental, and social challenges will help them prosper and grow. This, in turn, will solidify Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and allow us to move forward as an Arctic nation.

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