The Week Ahead: Taking stock of where they are

Inuit gathering for their quadrennial summit will discuss how to manage increasing outside interest in their territory.


Residents of Qaanaaq, Greenland, provide information about local conditions during the Pikialasorsuaq Commission’s 2016 visit (Kuupik Kleist)

When Inuit representatives gathered in Barrow, Alaska, in June 1977, for the first of what today are their quadrennial meetings, at the top of their list of 17 resolutions were to establish the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and to call on Denmark to recognize Greenland’s right to the ownership of its natural resources.

The former was accomplished in 1980 (though in 2006 its name was altered to the Inuit Circumpolar Council). The latter did not come about until 2009, with the passage of the Self-Rule Act.

As with past assemblies, this year’s meeting, taking place again in Barrow (though now it’s officially known as Utqiaġvik) on July 16 and 17, will “take stock of where Inuit are,” according to Okalik Eegeesiak, the outgoing chair. In addition to being able to celebrate the ICC’s accomplishments, delegates will also note that, 40 years after they first met, some of the original resolutions — such as “ensuring that the best medical care be made available to all Inuit” and calling in improved transport and communications — have yet to be addressed satisfactorily.

[Canada’s Inuit seek a larger voice in the future of the Northwest Passage]

As a multinational group representing Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka, Russia it is natural that it use its meeting to identifying issues of common concern and how to go about addressing them.

This year, it will do this by discussing “The Arctic We Want,” a topic chosen in recognition of increasing interest being shown in the region by the Arctic states of which Inuit are citizens, as well as by countries such as China (which has labelled itself a “near-Arctic state”) and organizations the likes of Greenpeace (whose mission is to “Save the Arctic”).

Only time and thorough discussion will reveal what it is Inuit want, but themes of past meetings suggest a distinct focus on Inuit Nunaat, the Inuit homeland (the theme “One Arctic – One Future is the only one to have been discussed twice, in 1992 and 2014) that does not turn its back on the rest of the world. Contrast, for example, the “Global Partnership” theme of the 1998 meeting with its “Enlightening the World” agenda in 2002. Similarly, the “Common Responsibility” of 1983 was followed in 1986 by “Our Land, Our Strength.”

This is an approach that was enshrined in the 2009 Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignty in the Arctic, which offers further insights.

[Second generation]

Alongside underscoring that Inuit are citizens of the states in which they live and residents of Inuit Nunaat, the declaration mentions a is a “pressing need for enhanced international exchange and cooperation” on economic, social and security issues. It also commits the ICC to work with “Arctic states and others to build partnerships in which the rights, roles and responsibilities of Inuit are fully recognized and accommodated.”

However, experience has shown that if necessary, Inuit are willing to take matters into their own hands. In 2016, for example, the ICC established its Pikialaorsuaq Commission, which travelled to communities in Greenland and Nunavut to gather information about its namesake body of water, which remains ice-free year-round, despite its northerly location, and is thus a vital for hunting and fishing area. Among the commission’s suggestions were the creation of an Inuit-identified, Inuit-managed protected area encompassing Pikialaorsuaq.

“We heard loud and clear from citizens in communities that are connected with Pikialasorsuaq that they want steps to be taken to protect it for future generations,” Kuupik Kliest, one of the commissioners, said during the presentation of the report. “People from the communities adjacent to Pikialasorsuaq want to be involved in the management and monitoring of this unique ecosystem.”

What Inuit want, it would seem, is to take care of themselves.

Spreading exceptionalism
While Finland may or may not have luck getting Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to address Arctic issues during their July 16 summit in Helsinki, another event being put on by the current chair of the Arctic Council is likely do better at attracting attention to the region.

The day after the two leaders meet, Finnish representatives will be approaching the Arctic from another angle: this time at the UN in New York, in connection with a gathering that is assessing the progress being made on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, a list of 17 areas such as poverty, social justice and the environment that the organisation would like to see improvements made in by 2030.

There, they will seek to focus on the accelerating climate dependency between the north and the south (what happens in the Arctic also affects the rest of the world, and vice-versa). Such discussions have been heard before, but the increasing pace at which the region’s climate is changing means it is worth repeating.

Finland, though, will also put a new twist on the topic by promoting the work the Arctic Council is doing for sustainable development. Helsinki included the SDGs in their chairmanship program, but the work of the council’s efforts, they argue, are a part of its foundation, thanks in part to the involvement of national authorities, indigenous groups and non-government groups in its work.

What happens in the Arctic, they believe, is worth spreading.

Also this week, Greenland’s foreign minister will be in Brussels on July 19 to seek to explain to European Union insiders what the United Kingdom’s departure from bloc means to her country. Of particular concern is how Brexit will impact the fishing industry, the country’s most valuable economic activity. To read up on the topic, have look at our story ‘As Brexit goes, so goes Greenland’s relationship with the EU’.

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please email [email protected].