Circumpolar Inuit gather as ICC assembly opens in Inuvik
"We are not here just to survive, we are here to thrive"
Inuit must unite and send a strong message to the world: that Inuit are the gatekeepers to the Arctic and know best how to map its future.
That was a message from the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Canadian president, Duane Smith, at the opening of the ICC’s general assembly July 21 in Inuvik, NWT, where hundreds of Inuit leaders and delegates are gathered for the week.
“From Greenland to Chukotka., from Alaska to the Canadian Arctic, we are one Arctic,” Smith told the assembly July 21. “And together this week, we will help forge one future for our people.
“We have an opportunity to chart a course for the next four years that will steer us through both the challenges of this rapid and unpredictably changing Arctic. But as important, to also position our communities, our youth, and our culture to take advantage of the opportunities of this changing Arctic.”
Smith called the assembly, held only once every four years, the most important ICC gathering yet, noting the growing interest in the Arctic’s resources and its shipping routes.
But this is happening as Inuit communities face health and wellness challenges, including increasing rates of chronic disease, food security issues and mental health issues, Smith said.
“And we are seeing increasing pressure from beyond our borders to our ability to sustainably use our natural resources and continued threats to our lands from climate changes and contaminants,” he said.
“Through this week we must address these complex issues and, through our efforts, let the international community know that our vision for Inuit Nunangat is that we are not here just to survive, we are here to thrive,” Smith said.
“We are the experts of this land – we will use the best of our knowledge and the best of other expertise to shape our vision together.”
Smith, who’s served as ICC Canada’s president since 2002, was acclaimed to the position again July 19.
As part of the assembly’s opening remarks, the event’s honorary patron, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the gathering through a recorded message, welcoming delegates to the Canadian Arctic.
“Canadians recognize that Inuit are an integral part of our past, present and especially of our future,” Harper said. “Canadian Inuit contribute to our national identity and help to ensure our sovereignty.”
“And as Aboriginal inhabitants of Canada’s Arctic regions, they are well positioned to take full advantage of the economic opportunities created by the Arctic’s economic rise and help Canada do the same.”
Aqqaluk Lynge of Greenland will chair part of the gathering, in his last function as ICC’s international chair.
At the end of the assembly on July 24, Okalik Eegeesiak, the outgoing president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, will replace Lynge in a pre-arranged succession.
Other speakers throughout the week include Greenland premier Aleqa Hammond, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Terry Audla, Charlotte Brower, mayor of the North Slope Borough of Alaska, and Anna Otke, a senator with the Council of the Russian Federation who represents Chukotka.