The ICC: fractured Arctic, uncertain future?
"The people of the Arctic are badly divided over oil and gas development"
Corrected Aug. 13, 1:45 p.m.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council: does anyone care anymore?
A few people, perhaps. It’s evident these days that only tiny numbers of regular people in Nunavut and Nunavik pay much attention to the ICC, which wrapped up its latest general assembly in Inuvik late last month.
We know this because of website analytics. Only 247 of you even bothered to click on our July 25 story about the ICC’s Kitigaaryuit Declaration, the centre-piece of their Inuvik gathering. Just four days later, 21,267 people lapped up a story about a Nunavik woman who plucked a ptarmigan inside a Montreal subway train.
The ICC, sadly, is becoming irrelevant to the grassroots Inuit it seeks to represent.
At the same time, governments, especially the Arctic Council’s eight member states, still take the ICC seriously, or at least pretend they do. Because of its status as a permanent participant on the Arctic Council, the ICC must be consulted on the Arctic Council’s agendas and they may also propose their own agenda items. As well, it’s represented on the United Nations’s permanent forum on indigenous issues.
This means the ICC still wields some influence. And that means what they say and what they talk about has the potential to affect your life.
So it’s still useful to look at the claims that ICC makes about itself and examine whether those claims reflect reality — especially in connection with the Inuvik assembly’s overarching theme: One Arctic, One Future. That’s because you don’t have to look very deeply to see that on the most divisive issue now facing Arctic peoples, offshore oil and gas development, the ICC has a continuing problem on its hands.
In an ICC panel discussion on resource extraction held July 23 in Inuvik, an Alaskan Iñupiat leader called Rex Rock Sr. had this to say about oil and gas development:
“Our communities have come to realize, and accept, that our survival depends on a healthy natural environment and ongoing resource development. Safe, responsible oil and gas development is the only industry that has remained long enough to foster improvements to our remote communities.”
Seismic testing and marine mammal hunters? In Alaska, they’ve been co-existing for more than 30 years, he said.
“The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission has been a leader in creating partnerships with the industry to protect our whaling activities,” Rock said.
Rock is the president and chief executive officer of an Iñupiat birthright company called the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Just six days after his ICC speech, on behalf of his corporation, Rock signed a deal with a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell that creates a new firm called Arctic Inupiat Offshore, with an option to participate with Shell in drilling for oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea, in exchange for future royalty payments.
On the other side of the North American Arctic, it’s a different story. The people of Clyde River, Arctic Bay and other north Baffin communities have categorically rejected a five-year plan to do seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.
They’ve railed against it on the radio, protested it in the streets of their communities and taken the issue to the Federal Court of Canada, where they seek a permanent injunction. And that’s just seismic testing. No one is yet proposing to drill for oil and gas anywhere on the Canadian side of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.
Who can blame them? The project promises great risks and few benefits.
And that’s the big problem. In Canada, there’s no clear process for ensuring that Inuit benefit from offshore oil and gas exploration.
“The offshore does not in itself have a policy by government to say what is the share of the risk and the benefit to Inuit,” Nellie Cournoyea, the chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., told CBC this past July 24.
Meanwhile, ICC Canada and its related organizations — such as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Qikiqtani Inuit Association — have so far kept their distance from the issue: no public statements and in the case of QIA and NTI, a couple of quiet resolutions passed last fall that they did not publicize.
And they’ve so far kept their distance from Clyde River’s court case. The Hamlet of Clyde River acted on its own, with moral and financial help from — believe it or not — the once-reviled Greenpeace.
We have no way of knowing if Clyde River’s lawyers will win or lose. But their case raises national constitutional issues that are vital to the interests of Inuit and other aboriginal peoples in Canada.
At some point, ICC, ITK, NTI and QIA will have to talk about these issues in a more forthright manner. If they don’t, they run the risk of being left on the sidelines, confirming the skepticism of those who already believe that on the issues that matter, those organizations are slipping into irrelevance.
That, however, could be easier said than done. The people of the Arctic are badly divided over oil and gas development, and other forms of industrial development. The leaders of many Inuit associations and birthright corporations see profit for themselves, jobs for everyone else and economic self-sufficiency. Many others see environmental degradation and the loss of wildlife, country food and cherished ways of living.
In itself, that’s natural. People everywhere else in the world are divided over the same issues.
But the ICC and its constituent organizations have yet to create a true consensus on development, despite the well-meaning declaration on non-renewable resource development they issued in 2011.
And the “one Arctic” they seek to establish is still fractured, its future uncertain. JB
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial said that Ecojustice is providing moral and financial help to litigants in the Clyde River application against seismic testing. A spokesperson from Ecojustice said Aug. 13 that the organization is not providing any financial help or representing anyone in that court action.