The Inuit Circumpolar Council met in Kotzebue last week. It was the first meeting there since a general assembly in 1986. Members from Russia, Greenland and Canada joined their Alaskan counterparts to discuss ongoing concerns for indigenous people in the north. ICC formed in 1977. Jim Stotts is the ICC Alaska President. He says the regional groups have grown and are much more capable of addressing the concerns of the indigenous people they represent. ICC is also part of the eight nation Arctic Council. He says increasingly, they are being listened to on perennial issues such as climate change, subsistence and oil and gas development. Stotts says the federal government worked with them while developing the new national arctic policy.
“We feel like they are listening to us. At the Arctic Council level, where we have a right to participate in all levels of meetings including the ministerial meeting where you have folks such as Hillary Clinton or Secretary John Kerry at the meetings, very high level meetings. So I feel that we are being listened to and that we’re having an impact.”
Stotts says the rush to develop oil and gas resources in the arctic coupled with the prospect of increased vessel traffic means indigenous people need to be at the table for discussions about how to proceed as well as how to garner economic development for arctic communities. He says ICC contributed to an Arctic Council document called the Polar Code that was given to the International Maritime Organization.
“To address the special, unique nature of the arctic ocean, particularly ice and ship building codes and how to handle waste fuel and so forth. So, the arctic council is together with us and the observers which would include countries like China and the UK to come up with a plan and a way to do things safely that will benefit no only those countries but also the people that live in the north. So it’s important that this work is done before the mad rush for development.”
There is growing pressure from non arctic nations such as China to have a seat on the arctic council. ICC Greenland President Aqqaluk Lynge says there are important rules for how participants can operate within the arctic council, but he says there has to be acceptance of the interest from outside nations.
“Here the observers have a seat and if they also understand the situation of indigenous peoples of the arctic, then it’s good for us and it would help us to have more friends outside that would support indigenous peoples right to land, resources and our future culture.”
Lynge says the rapid growth of mining in Greenland is raising concerns over the community impacts from a large influx of outside workers. Concerns that both men say, will become a growing reality in Alaska and the other member countries as arctic resource development ramps up.