I would like to thank Roseann Runte, Careleton University’s president, for giving me theopportunity to speak to you today. I would also like to thank our co-chairs, John Higginbotham and Jennifer Spence for having done a fantastic job of guiding us this morning.
It is so important to celebrate the good things that happen in our lives – and in our country!
I’m glad to be here with you to collectively celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Arctic Council –
because it is indeed a good thing that happened twenty years ago.
Today, I want to share with you my thoughts on why the Arctic Council was a good thing that happened.
We live in an age of uncertainty. … We live in challenging times, in a constantly changingenvironment, whether caused by natural causes or by human unrest.
Watching the news and social media, we see wars being fought around the world, we see bombings and shootings in places we thought were secure and safe, we see people drowned trying to escape horrific situations, we see murdered and missing women and young people giving up on their lives. Yet, we can see strong people rising to make the world a better place.
In the face of such adversity, I continue to be an optimist. I see hope because many good things are happening. We are addressing these challenges through meaningful inclusion and cooperation. Not only do we need to celebrate these good things, but we need to multiply them.
Good things happen when good people talk to each other. Good things happen when these same people act together. In the context of the Arctic Council, good things happened – and are happening – because indigenous peoples were given a meaningful role at the Council at its founding. Talking, cooperating, acting in an inclusive way, not in a marginalized way, makes all the difference.
It is great to see so many good people here today who have made a huge difference in addressing difficult situations over the past twenty years and even well before that. I am honoured to be here with you, and have learned a lot just listening to the discussions this morning. You have made a difference.
I chose to stand for the selection of the presidency of the Canadian chapter of the Inuit Circumpolar Council because I believe that by talking, cooperating, and acting, our challenges become opportunities and our difficulties are transformed into positive outcomes.
Earlier in my career I stood for election as a member of parliament. Again I did so because I felt I could make a difference, by working cooperatively with others, in creating a better life for my people, the Inuit of Canada. Making sure they were included in the decision-making process.
Those that helped create the Arctic Council twenty years ago did the same thing. They believed that talking, cooperating, and acting would make the Arctic, indeed the world, a better place.
Those that helped create the Inuit Circumpolar Council almost 40 years ago also did the same thing.
And if it had not been for Inuit organizing themselves back then and cooperating with each other, across international borders, the fruitful cooperation with those who opposed our rights and interests would never have materialized. And in the case of the Arctic Council, it would never have been a success without the inclusion of Inuit and other indigenous peoples who are represented here today. There is a strong link. I say to governments, industry, academia, foundations, and others: include us meaningfully, without tokenism, by supporting the creation and strengthening of our organizations. Good things will then happen.
Why was ICC created and what struggles did those who founded the organization go through?
Things were very tough in the 1970s. While Inuit were not fighting wars, they were losing their lands, resources, and environment. They were facing discrimination in Greenland, Russia, Canada, and Alaska.
We lacked a sustainable economy in the new world that rapidly engulfed us. We lacked proper education facilities, sanitation, health care, the list goes on. Without talking to us, industry and governments planned projects, irreversibly changing Inuit Nunaat, our homeland that stretches from Russia to Greenland. Our existence as a people was under assault.
In the early 1970s, oil companies with the assistance of the state and federal governments moved into the north slope of Alaska without any regard for the Inuit who had lived there for thousands of years. An Alaskan Inuk, Eben Hopson, Sr. – along with other Inuit said “no!”Committed leaders and ordinary people joined the struggle and after several years, a settlement was achieved. The North Slope Borough was established. Eben Hopson became its mayor.
Canadian, Greenlandic, and Russian Inuit had similar experiences with industry and governments. They soon realized that the Arctic was about to change radically and irreversibly. Inuit saw that they were being left out of Arctic development plans, and were largely ignored.
I thank our leaders back then for not feeling overwhelmed and for not remaining isolated in their own world. They knew that by working together, our rights and interests would be protected, as would the fragile Arctic environment.
I was a teenager back in the 1970s. I came to Ottawa to attend Ridgemont High School, as secondary school was not an option for me back home. I lived with Tagak Curley, who was not only my uncle but one of the founders of ICC and the first president of the Canadian Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, or ITC as it was called back then.
Inuit leaders would often come by to my uncle’s house to talk late into the night, committed tomaking a better life for Inuit back home.
I met people such as Bill Edmunds of Nunatsiavut, Charlie Watt of Nunavik, Sam Raddi of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Mary Simon, who is here with us today and other Inuit that came to Ottawa to meet with my uncle. I did not realize I was in the midst of people making history. Later when I worked with my uncle, I would see correspondence from the North Slope Borough and I was so interested in what they were doing there. I saw that in our country, Inuit needed to join together to be heard by our own government and assert their rights.
In Alaska, Eben Hopson, seeing the danger of remaining isolated, was thinking the same thing. So he invited these same Inuit, along with others –– to the North Slope in 1977.
It was at that meeting, almost 40 years ago, that Inuit gathered from Greenland, Canada, and Alaska pledged to work together, celebrate Inuit unity, help conserve the Arctic environment for future generations, and collectively insert all Inuit into the plans, policies, and ideas that others had for our homeland. The Inuit Circumpolar Council was born. Little did I know thatthose discussions I overheard at my uncle’s place would end up being so important to futureInuit international co-operation.
And little did I know how important those conversations would be to success, if not the creation of the Arctic Council.
Due to the Cold War at that time, Inuit from Chukotka in the former Soviet Union were not able to take part in the 1977 meeting. After that, at each ICC General Assembly, an empty chair was always placed at the table to denote that the circle was still not complete. This happened until the Yupik – or Russian Inuit – were able to join ICC.
I will not list the accomplishments of ICC here today. You know many of them. I must, however, briefly touch upon the very important policy work that was carried out under the leadership of Mary Simon who headed up the international ICC in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Given that no cohesive Arctic policy existed in any of the Arctic states, ICC took it upon itself to undertake significant consultations with Inuit across Inuit Nunaat to develop its own – one that would not only speak to Inuit but also to industry, governments, academia, and others. This process endedin 1991 with a formidable publication called, “Principles & Elements for a Comprehensive Arctic Policy”. Even today, these principles and elements continue to underpin many of the positivechange being effected in Inuit communities and across the Arctic as a whole.
It is this kind of early foresight that Inuit carried with them into the Arctic Council negotiations that started around that time.
Canadian Inuit have much to be proud of as they played a strong leadership role in establishingICC and I look forward to you joining me in celebrating the organization’s 40th anniversary next year!
When we talk, cooperate, and act together, many good things happen. Inuit did it almost 40 years ago, and I am glad that 20 years ago the 8 Arctic states – along with ICC, the Saami Council and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, did it as well. And I am glad that the Gwich’in Council International and the Arctic Athabaskan Council – who are with us here today – gained the status of permanent participant soon thereafter. It has been a pleasure working cooperatively with you!
We have heard a lot about the formation of the Arctic Council this morning, and we will continue to discuss this afternoon, so I won’t list its accomplishments here either. But I do needto repeat that I believe the successes of the Council – and there are a great many – are due in large part to the direct and meaningful participation of six indigenous peoples organizations,who sit at the ministers’ table every two years, at the senior arctic officials’ table two to threetimes a year, and at each and every working group. This – as we have heard this morning – is a unique structure that is not replicated in any other international body.
I was fortunate, during my time as Member of Parliament, to be present at the first ArcticCouncil ministerial that was held 2 years after the Council’s founding. The Canadiangovernment hosted the meeting in Iqaluit. It was a proud moment to be three women at a defining moment for the Arctic Council. Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Jane Stewart, Mary Simon, Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs and myself as the first female Member of Parliament for Nunavut.
Over the past 20 years many people shared a vision and worked hard to bring the Arctic Council into being and to continue to build it to where it is now – a positive force for the future of the Arctic and its peoples. We have mentioned today some of the people at the political level who led these efforts, but in closing I would like to take a moment to recognize two individuals whose commitment and hard work also contributed greatly to the success of the Arctic Council, and who sadly we lost over the past year – Walter Slipchenko and Terry Fenge. At times of celebration and anniversaries, we always remember those who are not able to be with us to share in the moment and we greatly miss their presence.