Inuit: The Arctic We Want
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On July 16–19, 2018, Inuit delegates from Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Chukotka came together for the 13th General Assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). Under the theme “Inuit – The Arctic We Want,” delegates discussed their concerns and developed actions to address them throughout the 2018-2022 term. The event culminated in the adoption of the Utqiaġvik Declaration, which reflects Inuit priorities at the international level and serves as the mandate for the ICC’s work over this period. The Utqiaġvik Declaration outlines ten priorities aimed at advancing a future supportive of Inuit leadership and safeguarding the Inuit way of life, including:
- International Indigenous Human Rights and International Partnerships
- Food Security
- Families and Youth
- Health and Wellness
- Education and Language
- Indigenous Knowledge
- Sustainable Wildlife Management
- Sustainable Development
- Communication and Capacity Building
The Wilson Center’s Polar Institute weclomed ICC Alaska leaders to share their perspectives on the Utqiaġvik Declaration, reflections on its implementation since 2018, and goals in the final year of the ICC Chair, Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough. This gathering featured Inuit priorities across the four membership regions of ICC Alaska and how they relate to the overarching objectives of the ICC.
“To understand and be grounded in this dependent relationship [with the environment] is our cultural strength. This core value of Inuit identity is the driving force behind ICC. We Inuit are guided by the Indigenous knowledge and culture. This has developed through the millennia throughout our relationships with our world while we’re out hunting, fishing experiences on the land.”
“Activities of hunting, fishing, gathering, sharing, preserving, preparing, carving, and sewing, must all be kept and supported as times of learning Indigenous Knowledge to ensure our next generation of Indigenous Knowledge bearers are prepared to provide our unique way of knowing to Arctic research and governance.”
“Progress toward Indigenous-led resource management will be critically important to the future of the Arctic.”
“We remain. Our communities will continue adapting and we will rely on our Indigenous knowledge to maintain our relationship properly with our world because it is where our food, our health, and our future will come from."
“We need adequate funding so that our co-management organizations can address the issues that our communities are facing in reference to marine mammals. 90% of our diet comes from marine mammals. We want to ensure that Indigenous knowledge can be used jointly with science to come up with answers.”
Dalee Sambo Dorough, PhD
“In June of 1977 members of the Inuit family gathered in Utqiagvik Alaska in the first ever circumpolar conference hosted by the late Eben Hopson, then Mayor of the North Slope Borough. The vision was to set a course to organize as a political entity in order to bring about a coherent Arctic policy, and more importantly, to become the united voice of Inuit at the international level…Today, the Inuit Circumpolar Council is recognized as a non-governmental organization and as an Indigenous peoples’ organization that works to advance the shared priorities of Inuit living throughout Inuit Nunaat. Our homelands encompass our communities throughout Chukotka, in the Russian Far East, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, and we carry out our work through research, advocacy, and representation.”
“Everyone knows that climate change is impacting our homelands and our people and our communities at a much faster rate than anywhere else in the world.”
“The Central Arctic Oceans Fisheries Agreement is significant because it makes specific reference to Arctic Indigenous peoples and explicit reference to Indigenous knowledge. This creates an opportunity for ICC to enter into the current discussion about scientific research as it moves forward and our insistence that Indigenous knowledge be respected and acknowledged in this context.”
“Our voice should be in every relevant forum, and we have to have a rightful place in a context that is genuine and meaningful and ends up in policies that emerge.”
“Vivian, I want to make sure that I underscore your point, which is that you have  villages and you have 4 public safety officers. The equivalent would be, in the United States, if somebody lived in a community and there was no police officer. Absolutely none. And you had to wait for someone to either travel by air, by snow machine, by boat, by whatever, to get to your community to respond to an incident.”
“We want to continue to work on the Tribal Priorities for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, and these are public safety, that’s the number one priority from our villages, from our tribes in our region; economic development; community wellness; subsistence; climate change; transportation infrastructure; and tribal sovereignty.”
“We want to continue working with our partners towards the Arctic we want. The 56 Tribes on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta live in the Arctic all year round. We live here. We have families and communities that thrive in the Arctic because it is our home and has been for generations. We will be here for generations to come. We want to work with the state, federal, and tribal governments to improve the quality of our life, quality of life for our villages. In essence: we count, we matter, we have a voice. Our partners need to work with us at all levels on the path toward the Arctic that we all want…. The Arctic we want is for our children and the future generations in our region across the state.”
“Right now, our villages have three levels of challenges, three levels of disasters going on: Of course, the first one right now is the pandemic. Then you layer that with the public safety crisis. Then you layer that with, for the lack of a better word, the changes in our environment—climate change—and, as we’re witnessing on the Lower Yukon, a salmon disaster.”
“About five years ago, our tribes in the region prioritized all the issues and came up with a listing. Those top categories are public safety, economic development, and community wellness. Using this as a priority list, our region has worked on a public safety initiative for five years. I am hoping with this presentation that we will spark more interest in the challenges we face in our region."
“The Russians aren’t our only concern in the Arctic. The Chinese want equal trade access to Arctic waters as well. Chinese vessels have on several occasions breached Russian territorial waters without permission and in 2015 they sent marines on an exercise at the Bering Strait… It can’t be denied that China has a strong interest in the Arctic. They have sought participation in Arctic governance through the Arctic Council. They are promoting bilateral relations with Arctic states for strategic purposes and this includes substantial investments in Canada, Greenland, and Denmark. They are also establishing and improving bilateral diplomatic relations with the five northern European countries, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. It is my personal opinion that the Native Arctic people are not benefiting from Chinese investment, and I think that has been proven over the course of time when those countries can’t afford to pay the financial requirements on those loans. China has also interests in shipping, resources development, and polar research in the Arctic. China’s policy goals in the Arctic involve four key principles: understand, protect, develop, and participate in the governance in the Arctic.”
“While the U.S. regularly has aircraft in the Arctic skies and submarines traversing Arctic waters, we have no show of force in the Arctic… We want assurance that the U.S. recognizes the critical importance of U.S. interests in the Arctic, and that includes development. We want the Port of Nome built out; we want U.S. investment in other infrastructure on our Arctic shores… Our nation’s strategic competitors with interests in the region have invested heavily in infrastructure and capability. This includes ice-capable vessels, improved communications, and new or updated ports and airports. We have an aging icebreaker fleet, which hopefully is going to change shortly; China is building more icebreakers than what the United States has. We seem to be a reluctant Arctic nation. It seems difficult at times to convince Congress that Alaska is worth investing in, and this includes the American Arctic particularly."
“In sum, what do we want? We want to continue to live our lives in the Arctic and thrive as we do so.”
“This much is clear: whatever development or other activities that happen in the Arctic, whether onshore or offshore, must be done in a manner that protects subsistence resources.”
Liz Qaulluq Cravalho
“I want to highlight the importance of our subsistence culture. I think a lot of folks see subsistence culture, have heard of it as just hunting and gathering. The work we have done at ICC has really talked about the importance of food security and that subsistence is much more than just hunting and gathering. It's also a way of life and it is a mechanism for understanding our place in the environment and within it. As Inuit we do not see ourselves as separate from the environment, but a part of it, and we have a responsibility to steward and be good stewards of the environment and the resources we depend upon.”
“There are about 155,000 Inuit. We have a shared culture, languages, and values, and we have been here for over 10,000 years. We have inhabited these lands for that time, and these are our homelands. We live in multiple political and national jurisdictions, which can make it very challenging across our different regions to find ways to ensure that we are protecting our way of life and cultural survival.”
“In working with our communities and finding that balance, it's critical to engage. For agencies, we need to make sure we’re utilizing tools for consultation with tribes, consultations with [Alaska Native corporations], and engaging our local municipalities, because together we represent the community.”
“Traditional knowledge can greatly augment and improve operations in resource development.”
Mayor Harry K. Brower, Jr.
“The Arctic that me and my fellow Iñupiat want is an Arctic where our children and grandchildren have the God-given human right for food security, food sovereignty, which includes food security. We also want the sustainable development of our resources. These desires are equivalent to what most of my fellow US citizens take for granted in the lower 48.”
“The costs [of transportation] are very high. They are felt every day by families just trying to secure the food, clothing field, and other basic needs. The costs are providing the materials and resources needed to build and maintain schools, health clinics, water and sewer systems, public safety, adequate housing, communication systems, and other critical facilities and services. These high costs add up. These costs create a constant challenge to overcome and greatly impact the quality of life in our communities.”
“We have to identify and structure the communications so that responsible development is put into action when it comes to development...Preventive measures can help us derive answers to many of the questions we have regarding the development of our resources.”
“The Emerging Leaders Initiative’s Goal is to build the next generation of Inuit leaders who are familiar and interested with ICC’s work. The Emerging Leaders Initiative exposes us to ICC’s work at an international level by allowing us to attend and participate in the Arctic Council United Nations ICC Executive Council and ICC Alaska board meetings while also being mentored by ICC Officials. The three main objectives coming out of this initiative for ICC are building relationships with Alaskan Indian Youth, will learn about ICC history and current levels current efforts at the international level by attending international meetings while being mentored by ICC leadership… Another goal is to develop recommendations from a youth perspective for improving Inuit youth interest and engagement with ICC… The last goal is that the influence of this project will ultimately result in a future where Indian youth are aware, interested, excited and engaged in ICC’s work.”
“10 years down the road, we are looking for an inclusive environment where all voices are heard and taken into consideration when decisions are made. Any decisions that are made in regards to our land, people, or culture should be made by us, not by others telling us how we should manage our natural resources.”
“Having meaningful engagement with youth and taking in a younger perspective of issues that are going on throughout Inuit Nunaat is very important. Organizations need to be inclusive of younger voices so that they are equipped for what is happening tomorrow.”
Liz Qaulluq Cravalho
Mayor Harry K. Brower, Jr.
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