Iqaluit. Angela Scappatura.

Iqaluit (detail). Angela Scappatura \ CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

SUSTAINABILITY means many things to many people. The core, unifying traits of sustainability are laid out in the work of the Brundtland Commission. Still, at a local level, sustainability remains context-dependent. In the context of Iqaluit, we have defined sustainability for our community in a genuinely meaningful way that has strong local impact. 

As the largest city in the Canadian eastern Arctic, we anticipate that increasing demand, along with climate change, will continue to stress our systems.

Our sustainability framework emerged out of significant community dialogue in 2012 and 2013. We held more than 300 local meetings and collected over 300 reports and studies written about Iqaluit since 2002. We then analyzed and summarized our findings in two documents that we used to seek community feedback: What We Heard – A Summary of Past Voices and What We Have – Our Community Assets. We also launched a community storytelling activity, created a community exhibit in place of a public meeting, facilitated working groups and hosted a meeting for long-term Inuit residents. These conversations were documented in What We Feel – Sharing Our Stories. The final five-year Sustainable Community Plan is a crowd-sourced document with input from over 700 residents and includes 254 actions by 52 community and municipal leaders. In 2014, we won the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Sustainable Community Award for this work.

Iqaluit’s Sustainable Community Plan (2014-2019) comes at an important point in our development as the capital city of the territory of Nunavut. Residents of Iqaluit are experiencing changes resulting from exploration of natural resources, tremendous growth in economic opportunity and intense pressure from rapid population growth. Our community is still experiencing the legacy of colonialism, which influences expectations about and service delivery for housing, employment, healthcare, religion, education, family, justice and food security. All these changes have the potential to bring increased wealth and opportunity to the residents of Iqaluit, but also carry the potential to further override and overwhelm cultural and societal Inuit practices. 

The 19 themes identified by community members that inform the five-year plan for Iqaluit.
From the Iqaluit Sustainable Community Plan (2014).

The anticipated growth in our remote, fly-in community will pose considerable financial, social, cultural and environmental challenges. The municipality is stretched in infrastructure and resources. As of 2014, we have a population of approximately 8,000. Based on projected moderate growth rates, our population is expected to exceed 13,000 within 15 years. All residents, both short- and long-term, strive for appropriate representation. As the largest city in the Canadian eastern Arctic, we anticipate that increasing demand for housing, energy, water, wastewater treatment and solid waste management, along with climate change, will continue to stress our systems. Additionally, our community is struggling to cope with acute social issues on a major scale. We are fighting an uphill battle against mental illness, addiction, abuse, suicide, educational under-achievement, unemployment, housing shortages, cultural erosion and disengagement. Our community is facing the pressures of unprecedented change of a magnitude that requires us to revise our thinking about how we manage resources and how we relate to each other. 

Our sustainability is about people. Placing people at the heart of sustainability makes all the more sense in light of our history of colonization.

Facing these challenges is daunting. During conversations with over 700 residents about our future, we returned to the same general conclusion: Our sustainability is about people. It is people who help the environment, people who support each other and people who work for a better future. Placing people at the heart of sustainability makes all the more sense in light of our history of colonization. A human-centred approach to a better long-term future is a sustainable investment in our community. This clearly emerges in our long-term vision statement. 

Our sustainability is also about relationships. Every day, we engage in dynamic relationships with the environment, with social and family well-being and with a productive society. Adopting a relational approach to sustainability responds to the traditional social values of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (the past, present and future knowledge and understanding of Inuit practices, beliefs and wisdom) and speaks to our current realities and challenges. Especially in a remote community, at an individual level and at a group level, our interactions with the land, with each other and with ourselves – including our contribution to the economy – are intertwined and inseparable. Relationships are everything and everywhere, and how we manage them can have a clear impact on our long-term future. 

Our work in Iqaluit shows how dialogue is essential in working together for a better long-term future. Building healthy relationships, actively listening to each other and connecting in meaningful ways strengthens the heart of our sustainability. 

Robyn Campbell is the sustainability coordinator of the City of Iqaluit, and has worked for over a decade in community engagement and interdisciplinary research in the fields of sustainability, community art and education.

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