Inuit leaders to advance Indigenous human rights

Representatives of the U.S. delegation address the ICC General Assembly during the opening day of the summit on July 16, 2018. (ICC/Youtube)
Inuit delegates from the U.S. state of Alaska, the Russian region of Chukotka, Greenland and Canada concluded Thursday the 13th Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) General Assembly in Utqiaġvik, northern Alaska, pledging to work on advancing international Indigenous human rights and seek greater voice in international organizaions.

During the four-day summit, the 64 Inuit delegates heard presentations from experts on a number of topics ranging from economic development, wildlife management and Inuit culture and language.

Delegates also heard a detailed report on the outcomes of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission on the North Water Polynya, an area of year-round open water surrounded by sea ice between Canada’s Ellesmere Island (Eastern high Arctic) and the northwestern coast of Greenland.

Known as Pikialasorsuaq in Inuktitut, the polynya, is one of the most biologically productive areas in the circumpolar Arctic and is a breeding ground and migration area for animals such as narwhal, beluga, walrus, bowhead whales and migratory birds.

It is also of tremendous cultural and economic importance for the Inuit who have depended on its bounty for their survival for millennia.

‘Every Inuk is valued’

The summit also transferred the rotating chair of the international organization from Canada to Alaska for the next four-year term.

Dalee Sambo Dorough was unanimously elected as the new Chair, taking over from Canada’s Okalik Eeegeesiak.

“Every Inuk is valued. Every Inuk is the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Period,” Dorough, who teaches political science at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said in her closing address.

“Our founding father, Eben Hopson, had the foresight to unite us as a people. He saw the value of advancing a coherent, coordinated approach to our collective action and our united voice at the international level.”

Dorough, whose research and work focuses on international relations and Indigenous issues, said she wants to underscore the interrelated, interdependent and indivisible nature of human rights.

“We have determined our political status – we are distinct peoples, with distinct rights that inhabit a distinct region of the world,” Dorough said. “I am genuinely honored to have been selected to lead the Inuit Circumpolar Council for the next four years.”

Participants of the 13th Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) General Assembly in Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), Alaska, light the traditional qulliq oil lamp during the opening ceremony of the assembly on July 16, 2018. (ICC/Youtube)
Delegates adopt Utqiaġvik Declaration

According to the ICC tradition, the delegates also adopted the Utqiaġvik Declaration, a roadmap for the organization’s activities during the coming four years.

The Utqiaġvik Declaration contains 10 sections and 58 clauses, drafted with the theme of the General Assembly in mind “Inuit – The Arctic We Want”.

Top of the list is greater engagement with various international organizations and bodies, including United Nations and the Arctic Council, where the ICC, which represents about 160,000 Inuit across the circumpolar world, is one of the six Indigenous permanent representative groups.

The Utqiaġvik Declaration also mandates ICC to initiate diplomatic talks “for the purpose of laying the groundwork for negotiations to declare the Arctic as a Peaceful Zone.”

Other priorities outlined in the declaration include food security, family and youth, health and wellness, education and language, Indigenous knowledge, sustainable wildlife management and environment, sustainable development, communication and capacity building.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada elects new president, vice-president, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi school preserves reindeer herders’ heritage with help of internet, Cryopolitics Blog

Norway: Arctic Indigenous food culture takes the day at international cookbook awards, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia plans fenced parks to confine reindeer herding in Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Report sheds light on Swedish minority’s historic mistreatment, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaskan Inuit dialect added to Facebook’s Translate app, CBC News

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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