As national media hone in on Alaska, ICC plots its course

Okalik Eegeesiak of Nunavut is chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.
Okalik Eegeesiak of Nunavut is chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

Alaska and the future of Arctic policy are seeing increased international attention as the U.S. holds the chairmanship for the Arctic Council and foreign ministers prepare to meet in Anchorage later this month—joined by President Obama, who’s planning a visit to Kotzebue and Dillingham.

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Bethel has seen international leaders on hand last week as the Inuit Circumpolar Council executive council met to plan their next few years of work. Jim Stotts of Barrow is President of ICC-Alaska. He says the indigenous perspective needs to be heard at the high level meetings.

“I don’t think anything can really happen in the arctic without the involvement of the Inuit, the people who are living particularly along the coast, on the arctic coast of North America. We’re the ones who have lived here the longest, who know the most about it. If we’re not included in discussions about the arctic, they’re incomplete discussion as far as I’m concerned,” said Stotts.

The ICC represents indigenous people from Arctic nations. They consult with the United Nations and are a permanent participant to the Arctic Council.

ICC’s goals aim well beyond the president’s visit, with summits on economic development, wildlife management, and education planned for the next few years. Officials say they want to strengthen the ICC’s role within the international sphere.

ICC Chair Okalik Eegeesiak from Nunavut, Canada says another priority that doesn’t see as much publicity is mental health in the Arctic. While there are many efforts going to suicide prevention, she says it’s not enough.

“..but there is no work about post-suicide, and the families that are left behind, and the support system they need. So we want to build those resources up at the community level,” said Eegeesiak.

Vice Chair Hjalmar Dahl is ICC president for Greenland. He emphasized that indigenous leaders need to reach out to all generations across the north and connect them with those that have common goals and interests.

“We are not isolated. We are part of the global community. It’s important for us also to get the youth to gain the knowledge of our work in that area. And that the youth be interested also,” said Dahl.

The executive council took a trip to the nearby village of Oscarville to see a pilot project for coordinated and collaborative community development.