02/17/2015 01:38 EST | Updated 04/19/2015 05:59 EDT

Report finds that Canada's Arctic compares poorly around globe

A long-running study concludes that the well-being of northerners in Canada's increasingly urban Arctic compares poorly with people in other circumpolar regions.

The second Arctic Human Development Report, released Tuesday, says northern Canadians rank at best in the middle of the pack when it comes to infant mortality, tuberculosis, fatal accidents, homicide or suicide.

"Canada is not doing as well as other areas in certain dimensions," lead author Gail Fondahl said Tuesday.

But Canada leads in other ways, said Fondahl, a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia.

"Canada is leading the world in some things like innovative governance structures that allow for local participation."

The Arctic report is a followup to one released in 2004. It was funded by a wide array of international bodies and is to be presented to the Arctic Council before its upcoming meeting in April.

It attempts to compare the Arctic regions of Canada, the United States, Russia, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and regions such as the Faroe Islands.

In general, the study concludes that health is strongest in Nordic countries such as Norway and Finland, where there is little difference between north and south or indigenous and non-indigenous.

In North America's Western Arctic — Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories — health is comparable to or better than the national average. But aboriginal people fare significantly worse.

Greenland and Nunavut, where more than 85 per cent of the population is Inuit, show much poorer health status than their respective national averages.

The Russian Arctic consistently fares the worst.

The report also picks out bright spots such as an increasing tendency for northerners to have a say in the development of resources. Canada, where land-claim settlements have created environmental boards that give a strong voice to local people, has led the way, said Fondahl.

"What we see in this is a real innovation to get local buy-in to resource management. There are a lot of people who think this is the best of what we're offering in terms of local participation."

Attempts by the federal government to reduce the independence of some of those boards are being fought in the courts.

The study also found a major population shift from tiny, outlying communities to urban centres that vary in size from Russia's cities of more than 100,000 to Nunavut's capital of Iqaluit at 7,000.

But the pattern is occurring everywhere. And, said Fondahl, more women are moving than men.

"Women are becoming more educated in a formal sense at a greater degree than men and therefore are not finding the kind of jobs that they aspire to in their local communities."

The report also notes that the Arctic's population would be dropping without high birth rates in Alaska and Canada. Nunavut has a fertility rate of three children per woman — the highest in the circumpolar world.

Research also suggested that the region is enjoying a modest cultural rebirth, despite social problems that eat away at many northern communities, Fondahl said.

"There's a huge music and arts scene, film, a lot of really innovative arts," she said. "There's a lot of celebration of identities ... trying to negotiate between what's called traditional and what's called modern and coming up with new and interesting ways to do that."