The question of “what to do with the North?” is a divisive one — and Leona Aglukkaq is expected to help answer it. The member of Parliament (and current minister of the environment) from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, stepped onto the world stage in May when she was named chair of the Arctic Council. The political organization discusses issues common to each of the eight member Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States). Aglukkaq, who is Inuk, immediately set the tone, vowing to prioritize cooperative business development in the North — a move she hopes will see her people’s best interests taken into account. “I’m frankly tired of being studied from afar,” she told ipolitics.ca in April.
Aglukkaq’s appointment as chair also marked the second time Canada has helmed the intergovernmental panel in 17 years; the first time was in 1996, the year the council was formed. Since then, many countries have increasingly looked to the melting North, eager to see what new shipping routes or natural resources present themselves. Aglukkaq made it clear in her acceptance speech, however, that “the Arctic Council was formed by northerners, for northerners, long before the region was of interest to the rest of the world.” Whether she can balance that statement with the demands of her current role in the federal cabinet remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that Aglukkaq has made Canadians think hard about their country’s northern geography and how they want it managed in the future.