Ties in North American Arctic stronger than ever, says Canada

Greenland’s Prime Minister Mute Bourup Egede (left) along with Denmark’s then Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, and Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly at the signing of the Hans Island agreement in June 2022. The agreement is one of many examples of how Canada is strengthening its relationships across the circumpolar world, Ottawa’s top Arctic official says. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Despite the rupture in Arctic cooperation with Russia’s since its invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Canada’s relationship with the other circumpolar nations is stronger than ever, Heidi Kutz, Ottawa’s top Arctic official, told a Toronto conference this week. 

Besides the resumption of work on Arctic Council projects that didn’t include Moscow, Kutz cited the June Canada-Greenland-Denmark Hans Island Agreement and the August memorandum of understanding between Nunavut and Greenland as noteworthy 

“[Ottawa, Nuuk and Copenhagen] managed to solve a 50-year dispute over Hans Island and the maritime border. I think that’s a real credit to what we always say: the Arctic is a rule-based region, and if we work within that system to resolve our differences, we can achieve results,” Kutz, Canada’s senior arctic official and the director general of Arctic, Eurasian, and European Affairs at Global Affairs Canada, said.

Heidi Kutz, Canada’s senior arctic official and the director general of Arctic, Eurasian, and European Affairs at Global Affairs Canada, and Kenneth Hoegh, Greenland’s head of representation to Canada and US, say ties between Arctic regions in North America have been strengthened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Kenneth Hoegh,Greenland’s head of representation to Canada and US, agreed, saying the agreement, and the August Nunavut-Greenland MoU were important building blocks to a stronger North American Arctic.

The MoU was signed in Nuuk and pledged closer cooperation and examining greater mobility for people between the two regions. 

“We want a much stronger partnership with North America,” Hoegh said. “I see a focus on North American pan-Arctic cooperation that hopefully will develop much stronger in years to come especially with more tade.

“There are global Arctic problems that we have to deal but I think we should stick more closely together, that’s the answer to all of this.”

Decades-long dispute settled

The Hans Island dispute goes back to the 1970s when the issue of what to do with the small rock island came up as Ottawa and Copenhagen were establishing the maritime boundary between Canada and Greenland, which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

The island sits on the demarcation line.

The inset on the map below showing the boundary agreed to between Canada and Denmark on Hans Island. (Government of Canada)

There are no people or vegetation on the island, but it became the site of national posturing in the ensuing years with both Canada and Denmark officials making occasional visits, sometimes with navy vessels.

The dispute was resolved with the signing ceremony in Ottawa in June 2022. 

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

Related stories from across the North: 

CanadaOcean protection needs Inuit involvement, marine congress hears, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Russian shoppers take Norway’s Schengen shortcut to Arctic Finland, Yle News

United States: A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, a walrus discovery is caught up in geopolitics, Alaska Public Media

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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