Inuit perspectives crucial as Canada develops Northwest Passage says report

Arne Lange, a Greenlandic fisherman and his son Angut Rosbach hunting seals near Ilimanaq, a village in Greenland. How will development of the Northwest Passage affect families like these? (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
Inuit must be at the negotiating table as climate change redefines the future of the Northwest Passage, says a new paper released in Canada this month.

“Inuit utilized what is now referred to as the Northwest Passage for millennia to migrate across Inuit Nunangat,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Canada’s national Inuit organization in the report’s forward. “We see (the Northwest Passage) as a feature of our homeland rather than as a shortcut for enhancing global trade.

“We are positioned through existing governance structures to make decisions and advise governments on the potential impacts and opportunities associated with increased marine traffic in the Northwest Passage.”

Incorporating pan-Arctic perspectives
Sea ice breaks apart by the passing of the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it traverses the Northwest Passage through the Victoria Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago Friday, July 21, 2017. Scientists believe there is no way to reverse the decline in Arctic sea ice in the foreseeable future. Even in the best-case scenario envisaged by the 2015 Paris climate accord, sea ice will largely vanish from the Arctic during the summer within the coming decades. (David Goldman/AP/via The Canadian Press)
View from the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it travels the Northwest Passage through Victoria Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago last year. Are Inuit perspectives being sufficiently represented when it comes to maritime issues in the Arctic? (David Goldman/AP/via The Canadian Press)

The ITK report, titled Nillijaut: Inuit Perspectives on the Northwest Passage, shares papers from different Inuit authors in Canada and Greenland on their perspectives towards maritime shipping and marine issues; as well as workshop outcomes on the issue held in Arctic communities in 2015-2016.

Authors include Kuupik Kleist, Greenland’s former prime minister, who stresses the urgency of Inuit participation in maritime regulatory issues,  and Mary Simon a former Canadian diplomat from Nunavik, the Inuit region of northern Quebec, who focuses on the role that land claims and Inuit knowledge can play in preparing for the challenges of climate change.

Scot Nickels, the director of Inuit Qaujisarvingat, the research centre at ITK in charge of the project, says incorporating Inuit voices from across North America is key when talking about trans-national issues like Arctic shipping.

“A lot of southerners see Inuit, and other Indigenous peoples, as  sort of this monolithic perspective and that everybody feels the same way. But there’s quite a bit of complexity Inuit society the way there is in southern society.

“Part of our interest is to go out there and provide a forum for that complexity.  It’s a lot easier then to go out and develop transparent and informed decisions and policy making from that best available knowledge.”

Increasing awareness

And though the report is geared towards policy makers and people that follow Arctic issues, Nickels said he hopes others will take the time to read Nillijaut.

“I would encourage the general public to have a look,” he said. “(The writing is) all quite different and I think very informative, particularly for Canadians who don’t necessarily know so much about the Inuit homeland, Inuit Nunanagat, that’s in their backyard.

“The essays will be enlightening for a lot of people.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Environmental group praises Canada’s new Arctic shipping rules, Radio Canada International

China:  Chinese company confirms interest in trans-Arctic shipping to Arkhangelsk, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: US icebreaker investment could bring 2 billions euro windfall to Finland, Yle News

Iceland:  Environmental groups call on Arctic cruise industry to reduce pollution in Iceland, Eye on the Arctic

Norway:  Arctic nations team up for shipping emergencies, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Arctic seaports bustle as shipping on Russia’s Northern Sea Route reaches new high, The Independent Barents Observer

South Korea:  South Korean company plans shipping through Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Canada, France, Norway and Sweden express support for ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, Radio Canada International

United States : Russia, U.S. tackle increased shipping in Arctic strait with IMO submission, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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