Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic October 29, 2012 - 1:27 pm

Aglukkaq stresses “people-first” approach to Arctic Council

EU, China must demonstrate “respect and support of indigenous peoples”

JIM BELL
Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the federal minister responsible for the Arctic Council, speaks to reporters Oct. 27 in Iqaluit. She said states seeking permanent observer status at council meetings must earn “the respect and support of indigenous peoples in the Arctic region.” (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the federal minister responsible for the Arctic Council, speaks to reporters Oct. 27 in Iqaluit. She said states seeking permanent observer status at council meetings must earn “the respect and support of indigenous peoples in the Arctic region.” (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s minister for the Arctic Council, told reporters Oct. 27 that she prefers to take a “people-first” approach to the eight-nation council’s work — and to the question of new observer applicants like the European Union and China.

“My view is that to be part of the Arctic Council, people come first, the development of the people come first, and how we respect the indigenous people through that application process,” Aglukkaq said.

This past Aug. 23, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that when the chairmanship of the Arctic Council moves from Sweden to Canada in May 2013, Aglukkaq will serve as Canada’s chair.

She also serves as Canada’s ambassador to the Arctic Council and within the federal cabinet, as minister responsible for the Arctic Council.

To get ready for this work, Aglukkaq began a consultation tour across the three territories that on Oct. 27 took her to Iqaluit, where she met all day with MLAs, cabinet ministers, and representatives from Inuit organizations and private businesses.

On the issue of whether the council should grant observer status to new applicants like the EU, China, Japan and South Korea, Aglukkaq did not take a position for or against any given country and said “those applications will be evaluated.”

But she also said the criteria for evaluating those applications must include an important principle: “the respect and support of indigenous peoples in the Arctic region.”

In October 2011, Mary Simon, then president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said that because of the European parliament’s decision to ban the import of seal products, ITK is opposed to observer status for the EU.

“Until and unless the EU strikes down this immoral legislation squarely aimed at destroying the traditional pursuit of an indigenous people, namely Canadian Inuit, we will maintain this position,” Simon wrote on her blog.

Aglukkaq said she takes credit for pushing the Arctic Council towards accepting “respect for indigenous people” as part of the criteria for observer status.

“The European Union would have to meet that criteria. They would have to demonstrate the support of the indigenous groups and I’m looking forward to reviewing that proposal,” she told reporters.

Right now, players like the EU and China hold “ad hoc” observer status, which means they must seek permission to attend each Arctic Council meeting.

States that enjoy observer status receive automatic invitations to attend Arctic Council meetings. Six nations — France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom — enjoy such status at the moment.

Most of the new applicants, such as China, Japan and South Korea, seek to upgrade their level of participation in the Arctic Council due to their economic dependence on ocean transportation for the import of raw materials and the export of manufactured goods.

This has sparked their interest in the potential future use of the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage.

But Aglukkaq said any new entrant to the Arctic Council must demonstrate a commitment to Arctic peoples.

During her round of consultations, Aglukkaq said her meetings with private sector representatives across the North help to plug a gap in the Arctic Council’s work.

“I’m looking at their ideas. I think that they are an integral part of the development of the North and the development of the people,” Aglukkaq said.

And that includes work that focuses on shipping routes, climate change, environmental standards and other circumpolar issues.

“It’s an area that I thought was missing overall. How do we deal with the Arctic whether it be in the area of climate change, or doing business, economic development, when the groups who do the work are not at the forum for conversation?”

To that end, Aglukkaq’s consultation round in Iqaluit included representatives from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., shipping companies, the Baffin Chamber of Commerce and players in the tourism business.

She also said the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents about 150,000 Inuit across the circumpolar world, does “great work” and is a leader in the development of some of the Arctic Council’s files.

So she said it was “important” that Duane Smith, the head of ICC-Canada, participate in the Iqaluit consultations.

This, she said, will help Canada create a “results-based” approach to the Arctic Council.

“What do we want for Canada’s North that produces real results that will have a lasting impact for northerners and the North? We would like to see more results-based initiatives that would lead to outcomes for northerners and in that type of thinking I invited ICC to be part of my consultations,” she said.

Aglukkaq was to continue her consultation tour Nov. 2 in Whitehorse and Nov. 3 in Yellowknife.

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