Canada supports greater voice for Indigenous organizations on Arctic Council

The flags of the eight Arctic states and the six Arctic Indigenous groups that make up the Arctic Council. On Thursday, the Inuit Circumpolar Council said it’s concerned about the direction the Arctic Council is going when it comes to Indigenous priorities. (Kaisa Siren/Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland)

Canada is in favour of a greater voice for Indigenous organizations on the Arctic Council, says the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau.

“We’re totally in support of that,” Garneau said in a phone interview with Eye on the Arctic

“From our point of view, we put people first. There are six permanent participants, and three of them are participants that have Canadian representation, so it is very, very important for us to put [the people of the Arctic] first.”

Garneau’s comments came just after the Arctic Council ministerial in Reykjavik on Thursday, where Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the organization that represents the approximately 180,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka, Russia, expressed concerns over the Council’s commitment to integrating Indigenous perspectives into the forum’s work.

“Participation is one thing, having influence is another,” said James Stotts, head of delegation for the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) within the Arctic Council and president of ICC Alaska, in his recorded address to the delegates. 

“What good is participation if no one listens and our concerns are not being paid the attention we think they should be? The current situation within the Arctic Council has become a concern for us. The term meaningful engagement has a different meaning for the Arctic states than it does for the permanent participants.”

Indigenous concerns need more attention in Council, says ICC
The socially distanced family photo of the Arctic states’ foreign ministers and Arctic Indigenous group respresentatives, at the Arctic Council ministerial in Reykjavik on May 20. (Gunnar Vigfusson/Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs)

The Arctic Council is an international forum made up of the eight circumpolar nations: Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States; and six Arctic Indigenous groups (known in the forum as permanent participants): the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council.

It was founded in Canada in 1996 for the Arctic states to work together on environmental protection and sustainable development.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council, Gwich’in Council International and the Arctic Athabaskan Council all have membership that includes Inuit or First Nations in Canada.

“The current situation within the Arctic Council has become a concern for us,” says James Stotts from the Inuit Circumpolar Council. (Courtesy ICC Alaska)

In his address, Stotts also cautioned against the growing number of marine protected areas in the North, and their encroachment on Inuit substance hunting.

“We need to be engaged in the planning, creation and management of those protected areas that are located near or within our homelands,” he said.

“We need guaranteed access to those protected areas to practice our way of life and to those resources that we depend on for nutritional and cultural survival.”

(ICC did not reply before publication of this story to inquiries about the location details of the particular regions of concern.)

Stotts said ICC also wants the Arctic Council to more closely engage with Indigenous priorities like food security, wildlife management, the infrastructure and social services deficit; environmental health issues and cultural survival, and better integrate Indigenous understanding of the North into the global knowledge base.

“It’s time to use Indigenous Knowledge together with science as called for twenty-five years ago,” Stotts said. 

Partnership between Indigenous knowledge and science key to Arctic’s future, says Canada
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minster Marc Garneau signs the Arctic Council’s Reykjavik Declaration in Iceland on May 20.
(Gunnar Vigfusson/ Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs)

Garneau says Canada is behind ICC’s call.

“Indigenous knowledge is a primary driving factor in terms of how we move forward in the Arctic and how we value it,” he said.

“These are the people who live there and have lived there for millennia and who have the knowledge that only they have. That combined with the scientific work that’s being done on various issues is what allows us to move forward in the most intelligent manner.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada The Arctic Council is back on track … or is that a rut?, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Finland: Finnish PM stresses importance of Arctic Council for region’s stability amidst climate change, Yle News

Iceland: With U.S. climate drama behind them, can the Arctic Council turn the page in Reykjavik?, Eye on the Arctic

India: Pole to Pole: India’s Arctic White Paper, Blog by Marc Lanteigne

Norway: Norway’s FM confirms participation in upcoming Arctic Council ministerial, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  Return to form for Arctic Council as Russia assumes leadership from Iceland, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Russian, U.S. foreign ministers to meet on sidelines of Arctic Council meeting, 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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