The first meeting of its kind, the landmark Northern Governance Policy Research Conference was held in Yellowknife from November 3 to 5, 2009. Hosted at the Explorer Hotel, the conference brought together 150 northern researchers, community leaders, and government officials to discuss how to connect effective research in the service of policy for aboriginal and community organizations.
“In our conference, we aim to empower researchers who work for indigenous governments to identify the policy research skills they use every day and share them widely. We also, of course, have to identify the gaps and figure out how to tackle these,” says conference lead, Stephanie Irlbacher Fox.
“We are here to figure out one of the most powerful tools to develop more effective policy in the north, the efforts of our research community, can actually inform decision making,” says the keynote speaker, John B. Zoe. John B. Zoe spoke at the Explorer on Tuesday evening during the opening gala.
Conference topics ranged from self-government, service delivery, and the impacts of mining, oil, and gas exploration, to social healing, wellness, and knowledge development. An Elders’ knowledge workshop also took place concurrent to the conference.
The conference was particularly timely as it provided an opportunity for researchers from across the Canadian Arctic to take stock of the enormous transformations in governance that have taken place in the North over the last three decades. From the 1984 Inuvialuit Agreement and the 1999 creation of Nunavut, to the 2003 Tłįchǫ and 2005 Nunatsiavut self-government agreements, the north has seen a patchwork of jurisdictions, local bodies, and land use plans emerge through the generalized processes of land claims settlement and federal devolution.
How they have addressed or plan to tackle the daunting economic, social, cultural, and environmental challenges of the North with its resource-driven economy, legacy of colonization, young population, and vast land mass, is a crucial question that researchers attempted to answer in this conference.
The dialogue generated by the conference also highlighted the importance of both university and community-based policy research, especially as governments attempt to set policies that are at once reflexive to changing conditions and responsive to the needs and priorities of communities rather than external institutions or funding bodies. That research likewise contributes to capacity building and community development, especially in regards to negotiating or implementing land claims and self-government, was stressed.
At the end of the conference, participants convened to make recommendations for effective policy-making and monitoring.
The conference was conceived in partnership with the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research, the Dene Nation, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, and the Tłįchǫ Community Services Agency and is being sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, BHP Billiton, Canadian North, and the Wek’èezhìi Land and Water Board.
The online archive can be found here: ngprc.circumpolarhealth.org