Ottawa, Canada – Inuit have reaffirmed Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage after comments this week by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Canada’s claim over the passage was “illegitimate.”
“The Northwest Passage is part of Inuit Nunangat, our Arctic homeland,” says Monica Ell-Kanayuk, President of ICC Canada. She attended this week’s Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Finland where Pompeo spoke.
“Mr. Pompeo’s characterization of the Arctic as a place of geopolitical and military competition is faulty,” said Ell-Kanayuk. “Geopolitical differences in the Arctic have always been resolved peacefully. Indigenous peoples living in the Arctic are integral to its international institutions and decision-making that has achieved this”.
“Canadian sovereignty is based on Inuit-Crown land claims agreements as well as more than four millennia of Inuit land use and occupancy throughout the region,” said ICC Canada President Monica Ell-Kanayuk. “Canada’s sovereignty is based on treaties and constructive agreements which recognize both Inuit sovereignty and Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic, including the Northwest Passage.”
Ell-Kanayuk pointed to ICC’s 2009 Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignty in the Arctic which states that, besides an inherent right to self-determination, Inuit have gained rights through international law, land claims and self-government processes.
She said the declaration talks about the development of international institutions in the Arctic and Indigenous Peoples Organizations. These new forms of governance “must transcend Arctic states’ agendas on sovereignty and sovereign rights and the traditional monopoly claimed by states in the area of foreign affairs.”
Previous Canadian governments have recognized the role Inuit have played in securing Canadian sovereignty, said Ell-Kanayuk, citing a 1985 statement by former Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Clark.
The ICC President said Clark was clear:
“Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic is indivisible. It embraces land, sea and ice. It extends without interruption to the seaward facing coasts of the Arctic islands. These islands are joined, and not divided, by the waters between them. They are bridged for most of the year by ice. From time immemorial Canada’s Inuit people have used and occupied the ice as they have used and occupied the land.”
Furthermore, based on Inuit land use and occupancy as well as Inuit-Crown land claim agreements, some Inuit rights holders are now working in partnership with the federal government to develop and implement marine co-management plans encompassing more than 157,000 square kilometers of the Northwest Passage. This is the reason why Inuit will remain centrally involved in the development of environmental, security, transport and economic development initiatives within the Canadian Arctic.
“Inuit are currently working with Canada on the development of an Arctic Policy Framework, which will articulate a regime for co-managing the Northwest Passage,” Ell-Kanayuk said. “This will include coordinated action to ensure sustainability, safety and security, as well as healthy communities across the Canadian Arctic.”
The Inuit vision for Inuit Nunangat includes cooperation with international partners,” she said. “Such cooperation is based on an Inuit driven approach to development, which is founded on shared Inuit- Canadian sovereignty.”
In his speech, Pompeo restated the long-held American position that the Northwest Passage is international waters, open to shipping of all nations. Canada’s position is that the passage is an internal waterway and any country that wants to pass through needs permission.
ICC Canada President Ell-Kanayuk said US seafaring ambitions through the Northwest Passage violate articles in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, such as Article 26 which states that, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”
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The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) is an Indigenous Peoples’ Organization (IPO), founded in 1977 to promote and celebrate the unity of 160,000 Inuit from Alaska (USA), Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia). ICC works to promote Inuit rights, safeguard the Arctic environment, and protect and promote the Inuit way of life. In regard to climate change, we believe that it is crucial for world leaders and governments to recognize, respect and fully implement the human rights of Inuit and all other Indigenous peoples across the globe.