Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic July 18, 2016 - 8:30 am

Nunavut Inuit to join African countries in bid for power under CITES

“The participation of Indigenous peoples and rural communities in the CITES decision-making mechanisms has been almost completely neglected"

LISA GREGOIRE
James T. Arreak, chief executive officer of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., says he welcomes a greater voice in species management at the international level. (FILE PHOTO)
James T. Arreak, chief executive officer of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., says he welcomes a greater voice in species management at the international level. (FILE PHOTO)
Signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, will meet in South Africa this fall to discuss the status of species at risk around the globe.
Signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, will meet in South Africa this fall to discuss the status of species at risk around the globe.

Inuit hunters want to have a greater say in how local animals are protected and harvested and they’re finding some unlikely allies — in Africa.

Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the United Republic of Tanzania are putting forward a motion at the fall COP17 meetings in South Africa to establish a Rural Communities Committee to allow rural and Indigenous peoples more power over the international protection and trade in endangered species.

And Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which is always part of these discussions, welcomes such a committee.

“People are the eyes and ears of the land. People hunting every day at the community level see what’s going on and experience first hand what kind of conditions exist out there in terms of the health of wildlife populations,” said James T. Arreak, NTI’s chief executive officer.

He said Inuit are committed to the “principles and objectives of CITES such as the prevention of trade in species that are threatened with extinction,” but NTI feels as though international discussions don’t always reflect Inuit traditional knowledge and their ability to co-manage species at risk.

“Our land claim requires the government to include Inuit when government formulates their position in relation to any international agreement so this really would be enabling Inuit to participate.”

And partnering with African countries makes sense.

“We’ve had connections to some of these African countries because of similar interests in terms of being able to protect our wildlife populations and our opportunity to benefit from them,” Arreak said.

The Conference of the Parties or COP consists of 181 states plus the European Union who have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, otherwise known as CITES, a multilateral treaty that came into force in 1975.

The 17th meeting of the CITES COP unfolds from Sept. 24 to Oct. 5 in Johannesburg.

The Rural Communities Committee resolution is one of many to be discussed at the fall meeting.

Basically, the proponent countries want CITES signatories to recognize the unique knowledge and capacity of rural and Indigenous stakeholders and to formalize their contribution to any discussion over restricting harvesting and trade in local species.

In other words, when countries band together to place trade restrictions on, say, polar bears, the discussion would include input from the rural communities committee which could include representatives from “legally recognized organizations,” such as NTI, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and others.

“The participation of Indigenous peoples and rural communities in the CITES decision-making mechanisms has been almost completely neglected,” says the resolution’s preamble.

“The CITES has no mechanism for addressing effectively the social consequences of its decisions that allow or disallow trade when the livelihoods of many rural poor depend on that trade. It is a serious humanitarian shortcoming.”

It goes on to say that rural and Indigenous groups stand to benefit most from subsistence harvesting, tourism, trophy hunting and trade and are often strong supporters of animal conservation and economic sustainability.

And after all, the proponents argue, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms that Aboriginal people “have the right to participate in decision making in matters which would affect their rights,” and that “ways and means of ensuring participation of Indigenous peoples on issues affecting them shall be established.”

Such a committee, if established, could help to shift the balance of power away from scientists and lobbyists and toward the people whose lives are most impacted by these far-away, international decisions.

“Inuit have always challenged science to be a bit broader,” Arreak said. “When science applies their practice, it’s very sampled and very narrow objectives and that guides a major government position.

“Our interest has been more universal. You can’t just look at the small sample you have, versus the greater picture of the environment, wildlife and circumstances.”

In response to a request for an interview with Environment and Climate Change Canada, a media spokesperson emailed a response calling the rural communities committee “a commendable, important initiative.”

Sebastien Gauthier of ECCC wrote that Ottawa plans to work with other CITES signatories in Johannesburg in support of the motion.

“Canada supports full engagement of Indigenous people in international debate and is therefore engaging with Inuit representatives, and the proponents of the initiative, to support the goal of having community advice on CITES decisions,” the email said.

“CITES procedures are complex and approaches that provide signatories with enough time to understand and support issues have the best chance of success.”

Canada has a few other priorities for the upcoming meetings as well and has submitted three proposals to be discussed among CITES signatories.

• removal of wood bison from Appendix II of CITES because international trade no longer poses a risk;

• reducing protection for peregrine falcons by transferring them from Appendix I to Appendix II because of successful efforts at conservation; and,

• reducing protection for cougars by transferring them from Appendix I to Appendix II.

We contacted the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Environment for comment, but they were unable to respond at this time.

A CITES graph showing the international trade in mammals and mammal parts from 2009 to 2013, voluntarily reported by both importers and exporters.
A CITES graph showing the international trade in mammals and mammal parts from 2009 to 2013, voluntarily reported by both importers and exporters.
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