Moving Toward Co-operation:
Inuit Circumpolar Policies and the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy

by Chester Reimer
Horsholm, Denmark, 20 June 1991. Mary Simon, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference; Vladimir Sangi, President of the USSR Association of Northern Small Peoples; and Leif Halonen, President of the Nordic Sami Council, sign the Declaration of the Arctic Indigenous Leaders Summit. Standing are the members of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Executive Council.

An "Enhanced" AEPS

The September '93 ministerial meeting in Nuuk generated a lot of excitement as indigenous peoples were given—or so it seemed—a greater role to play in the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS).

The excitement also had been present in Rovaniemi, Finland, in June 1991 when the AEPS was signed by the eight circumpolar nations. On this occasion, three international indigenous organizations were given permanent observer status and the concerns of indigenous peoples were mentioned throughout the strategy.

At the end of the Nuuk meeting, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), the Sami Council, and the USSR Association of Northern Small Peoples were guardedly optimistic about new possibilities for their involvement in the AEPS process. In addition to concerns about process, the ministers finally were considering substantive issues previously ignored

by the eight signatories but repeatedly called for by the aboriginal peoples.

Over the past two years, the AEPS has been criticised for many imperfections: for focusing on conservation; for not going much beyond monitoring the state of the arctic environment; for ignoring sustainable development issues; and for lacking any legal "teeth." The Inuit Circumpolar Conference has agreed with much of this criticism but has remained committed to the strategy and has decided to work within the AEPS to effect change rather than to abandon ship.

The ICC has gently reminded the national governments that they should not disregard that the strategy initially was conceived as a development strategy, and that the AEPS had itself called for "the sustainable utilization of natural resources, including their use by. . .indigenous peoples." Finally, over the two-year period, the ICC asked the arctic countries to broaden the mandate of the AEPS so that issues of sustainable development could be examined more frequently and more carefully. These and other issues were summarized in recommendations to the ministers at Nuuk in the ICC's report on how indigenous knowledge and indigenous participation could be better integrated into the AEPS.

Did the ministers listen? They did in part. In response to one of the ICC's recommendations, they agreed to establish a task force on sustainable development with a special focus on indigenous economies. Although the task force will not have full working group status within the AEPS it may address the challenges facing northern economies and ecosystems.

Other substantive commitments made by the ministers as a result of the Nuuk meeting included, among other things, breathing life into the AEPS Working Group on the Protection of the Marine Environment (which had been dormant since Rovaniemi) and supporting an ICC-led indigenous mapping project. Finally, process commitments also were made. In response to another ICC recommendation, Denmark offered to provide resources for a secretariat to assist the participation of indigenous peoples in the AEPS. It was recognized, although not officially acknowledged by the ministers in their report, that indigenous peoples also would be allowed observer status to the senior arctic officials meetings from Nuuk onward. Senior arctic officials are the government bureaucrats who head each country's delegations and carry out the work of the ministers in their absence. This "concession" was made after indigenous groups had, to the embarrassment of many officials, been locked out of such a meeting a day before the ministers had arrived.

Even with a new focus, how well does the AEPS fit the Inuit policies for the Arctic? For true sustainable development to become a reality for the Arctic, is a new forum necessary?

The AEPS still is not a perfect fit. Inuit hopes and priorities for the Arctic go much beyond even the post-Nuuk "enhanced" AEPS. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference, member regional organizations, and local communities have, over the past 16 years, articulated their visions of what the Arctic should be. A collective vision has emerged from a process of reflection, consultation, action, and dialogue with governments and other organizations. The ICC, with strong community support and committed leadership, has developed both action-oriented programmes and arctic policies that it expects industry, governments, and Inuit to follow.

At present, the AEPS does not measure up to the Inuit vision of the North. However, the Clinton administration' s new openness to promoting sustainable development has helped feed the rumour that the AEPS or a derivative organization may take a new course. To determine whether the AEPS has potential to measure up to the Inuit vision, let us look at Inuit policies and work carried out by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference since its inception in 1977.

Through acknowledging their need to participate not only in traditional economies based on sustainable use of living resources but also in non-traditional economies, indigenous peoples have articulated a vision of a future society and economy. The process that led to the statement of vision was never naive: It recognized that many of the new values and technologies of the South would be welcome in the Arctic of the future. But at the same time, it recognized that much about development practised in the South and, more recently, in the Arctic was frightening. As the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut stated in 1989, "We want and need a mixed economy and society reflecting the best of the old and the new" (NorthernPerspectives 17:1,Jan-March 1989).

The Inuit vision of the future has roots in the past. As the founder of the ICC, Eben Hopsen, said in 1977:

Our language contains the memory of four thousand years of human survival through conservation and good management of our Arctic Wealth.

It now is time to move beyond Rovaniemi and Nuuk. In so doing, it will be important not to lose sight of previous Inuit initiatives and to plan new approaches wisely.

The Inuit Circumpolar Conference

There are eight arctic nations, all signatories to the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. The Arctic's 125,000 Inuit live in four of these nations—Greenland, Canada, the United States and Russia—in an area spanning almost half the circumpolar region. As unrestricted development extended across Inuit homelands, as Inuit rights were increasingly ignored at both national and international levels, and as it became evident that much of the pollution in the Arctic originated elsewhere, the Inuit of the circumpolar region saw the need for collective action. As a result, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) was founded in 1977.

The ICC was given the mandate to help strengthen unity among its peoples across national borders, to promote Inuit rights and interests on an international level, to seek active participation in the cultural, social, and economic development of the circumpolar region, and to ensure the protection of the fragile arctic environment.

Unfortunately, the Cold War prevented the Russian Inuit from joining the ICC until just last year, when the 6th General Assembly of ICC was held in Inuvik. At each assembly and executive council meeting held before Inuvik, an empty seat was always a reminder that not all Inuit were yet at the family table. The arrival at Inuvik of Russian Yupik delegates was a very emotional event. Finally circumpolar Inuit were united and had a stronger voice internationally. Their arrival also underscored the need for a strong commitment to sustainable development, as the Yupik brought stories of rarnpant industrialization, loss of traditional lands and economies, environmental degradation, and high unemployment. Ludmila Ainana, a delegate to the Inuvik Assembly and now one of two Russian ICC council members, said the Russian Yupik were delighted to find that there were kinsfolk fighting for their rights. They had had no idea that the ICC had been trying to contact them, let alone that such an organization existed.

A Comprehensive Arctic Policy

One of the tools the Inuit "kinsfolk" and the ICC worked toward over the past decade was the development of a comprehensive arctic policy. As far back as the early 1980s, the Inuit of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska discussed the importance of, and debated the need for, an arctic policy that would systematically address the increasingly complex problems surfacing in the Inuit homelands.

Inuit became more aware that the "pristine" environment that had sustained them for millennia was rapidly changing. Many came to understand that an organized response to the new challenges facing the circumpolar region was necessary. These challenges included the anti-harvesting lobby, the militarization of the North, the eight circumpolar nations' lack of ocean management, the arrival of toxic chemicals from all corners of the globe, and the poorly regulated development of non-renewable resources.

Some Inuit wondered, however, if such a comprehensive arctic policy would be productive. They feared that policy statements of good intentions ultimately would remain unfulfilled for a variety of reasons. But in the end, circumpolar Inuit agreed that a comprehensive arctic policy was necessary and, at the 1983 ICC General Assembly in Iqaluit, delegates gave the ICC a mandate to develop a systematic approach to the problems facing the circumpolar region.

From 1983 to 1986, the ICC, regional Inuit organ1zations, and local communities exchanged views and ideas on issues of policy development. By the 4th ICC General Assembly in Kotzebue, Alaska, in 1986, various sets of principles had been drafted, and the main goals and specific objectives of an arctic policy had been written. At Kotzebue, delegates worked extensively on six draft principles addressing Inuit rights, peace, and security issues; environmental issues; social issues; cultural issues; economic issues; and educational and scientific issues. Mary Simon, elected president of the ICC at Kotzebue, spoke about the importance of elaborating a comprehensive arctic policy:

I feel that both Inuit and governments alike should view the ongoing ICC coordination and work, towards creating an expansive Arctic policy, as a worthy and crucial investment in the future of the Arctic and its northern peoples.... If carefully and thoroughly devised, the Arctic policy can be a central means of communicating to others what the northern homeland means to Inuit. It can generate understanding. The consensus-building process that it involves can be a unifying force—not only among Inuit, but also with governments and organizations that continue to have an interest in the North.

The ICC Principles and Elements for a Comprehenslve Arctic Policy were published in 1992. This publication is intended to be a living document that evolves to meet new challenges and opportunities of changing priorities and economic, social, and political circumstances in the circumpolar region.

The theme of sustainability is woven throughout the document. The Principles and Elements provide an excellent foundation upon which Inuit culture can be sustained, Inuit society can thrive, and a sustainable approach to economic planning and environmental protection can be devised. This document is a valuable guide to circumpolar nations and other organizations seeking to build upon the AEPS to ensure a sustainable filtilrP for the Arrtir

Inuit Regional Conservation Strategy

The Inuit Regional Conservation Strategy (IRCS), for which the ICC received a Global 500 Award from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 1988. was one of the action-oriented initiatives developed during the formulation of a comprehensive arctic policy.

Conceived in the mid-1980s, the IRCS was the ICC's plan for aretie sustainable development and, in many ways, refleets the essence of what both the Inuit and the ICC stand for. It addresses both process and substantive issues. Enabling Inuit to promote wise management, environmental protection, and sustainable development within their homelands, the strategy functions as a mechanism whereby Inuit organizations across the circumpolar region can better co-operate and share resources and ideas; provides the basis for substantive partnerships with international organizations such as the United Nations Environmental Programme, the IUCN-World Conservation Union, and others; and is a tool for governmental co-operation in the Arctic.

A central goal of the IRCS was to link environmental issues with Inuit objectives both for the arctic environment and for their way of life. A second goal was to provide a firamework to initiate productive exchanges among Inuit, developers, and conservationists. The IRCS sent out a clear message that Inuit were interested in partnerships, in dialogue, and in working together to ensure that the Arctic remains productive and healthy. It also stated clearly that much of the Arctic remains the homeland of the Inuit and that any development and conservation decisions should be Inuit decisions. The ultimate goal of the IRCS was to ensure that development of the Inuit homeland would be sustainable and would be based on subsistence activities.

The Inuit Regional Conservation Strategy has been implemented since 1986 through a variety of mechanisms and interrelated projects. Progress has been made on several fronts, including preliminary work on developing an IRCS database, a register of Inuit experts, and a manual of Inuit resource management. Some discussion with possible partners also has been undertaken toward developing a protected areas network in the Arctic. The IRCS also has actively encouraged the initiation of sustainable development demonstration projects and provided support to co-operative agreements for the management of shared stocks of various species of animals among communities, regions, and nations.

To solve many arctic problems and to ensure equitable and sustainable development, implementation of the IRCS requires international co-operation. Although the IRCS addresses 6.4 million-square-kilometres of the earth's surface, this area is not the whole of the Arctic. International co-operation and action is essential to solve problems such as pollution from sources far beyond the circumpolar region. International initiatives have been wide ranging: lobbying President Gorbachev; recognizing the special interestof indigenous peoples; and working with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) concerning sustainable use of living resources. These initiatives also have included monitoring numerous international agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Migratory Birds Convention, and bodies such as the International Whaling Commission and the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES).

When Finland first proposed a circumpolar strategy, the ICC responded favourably, recognizing the need for international co-operation if IRCS goals were to be achieved fully. A lack of resources has delayed achievement of all IRCS goals; however, the plan and many of the initiatives undertaken can guide the "Circumpolar Eight" in seeking ways to achieve true arctic sustainability.

The Arctic Council

The ICC also has been involved in many other endeavours that may guide those who intend to enhance the AEPS or to develop a "new and better" forum for circumpolar sustainable development.

For example, the ICC has played a key role in the effort to establish an Arctic Council. The idea of an Arctic Council to promote co-operation and ensure co-ordination of circumpolar countries has been attributed, for the most part, to the Government of Canada. Indeed, Canada first suggested the council and took the lead in convening discussions and negotiations among the eight circumpolar nations regarding the best methods to establish it.

In the first Arctic Council talks (ACT I), the ICC tabled its support for the initiative. It believed the council would help to solve problems common to all northerners, would help to raise awareness of arctic affairs in the "South," would be an efficient forum to explore solutions to many problems, and would encourage a more united front from which to tackle problems originating outside the Arctic. At ACT I, Mary Simon stressed, however, that such benefits could not be realized unless the council included "a northern voice and in particular, the direct and meaningful participation of aboriginal peoples." Simon also indicated that the Arctic Council would be unsuccessful if it did not directly target northern needs.

After ACT I, the ICC played an even greater role in the establishment of the council. Both the ICC and the Arctic Council Panel provided input to Canada's Draft Declaration on the Establishment of an Arctic Council. The ICC also participated with the Department of External Affairs in bilateral talks with Scandinavian countries and with the United States before ACT II, in May 1993. At ACT II, the ICC, Canada, and a few other nations pressed for the inclusion of indigenous peoples on the council. An agreement finally was reached to allow the ICC, the Sami Council, and the Association of Aboriginal Peoples of Northern Russia to "fully participate in the work and deliberations of the Council as permanent participants."

Whether or not the Arctic Council becomes a reality will depend, for the most part, on the United States, the only country not yet to support such a body. The degree of U.S. commitment to the council will likely be known once the Clinton administration releases its policy for the Arctic.

If the Arctic Council is established to promote and implement a sustainable development strategy for the Arctic, there can be no question that the participation of the Sami Council, the Association of Aboriginals of Northern Russia, and the ICC is essential.

Other ICC Initiatives

Canada' s lead in trying to ensure greater co-operation through a body such as the Arctic Council was greatly appreciated by Inuit. However, many organizations, including the ICC, already had recognized the need. For example, President Gorbachev recognized in 1987 that circumpolar lands and seas formed one region and that it was important to protect and promote this region's environment. As he stated in the Murmansk declaration the Soviet Union attaches much importance to peaceful cooperation in developing the resources in the North, the Arctic. Here an exchange of experience and knowledge is extremely important. Through joint efforts it could be possible to work out an overall concept of rational development of northern areas... [We] attach special importance to the cooperation of the northern countries in environmental protection. The urgency of this is obvious... [We] could set an example to others by reaching an agreement...

In 1984, the ICC obtained non-governmental status within the United Nations, which has allowed it to participate in many international forums.

The ICC also took an active role preparing for and participating in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992. More recently, it has completed a detailed analysis of Agenda 21 (UNCED's "blueprint for action") in all areas where human activities have had an impact on the environment. Each of the forty Agenda 21 chapters was analysed within the context of circumpolar sustainable development and, in particular, from an Inuit perspective. The analysis pointed to gaps in the agenda and identified areas where more Inuit work is required.

The ICC also was active in various national initiatives. It played a key role in the development of Canada's Arctic Marine Conservation Strategy and has, along with other aboriginal organizations, given guidance for the Green Plan's Arctic Environmental Strategy. The ICC has pressed for broadening the mandate of Canada's environmental strategy to include issues of sustainable use of living resources and sustainable development in general, rather than simply monitoring pollution.

Currently, the ICC continues to play an active role in the AEPS, particularly within the Flora and Fauna Working Group and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. It also is looking forward to an even more active role through the new indigenous peoples secretariat and the working group on protection of the marine environment.

Beyond Rovaniemi and Nuuk

What is the next step toward greater circumpolar co-operation? How can indigenous peoples and circumpolar governments ensure a sustainable future for the Arctic?

Part of the answer is to co-ordinate the many policy and programme initiatives already undertaken by the ICC and others. Another part is to pay heed to guiding principles such as those contained in the declaration of indigenous peoples at the arctic indigenous leaders summit in Denmark. That summit, held in June 1991, enabled indigenous and government leaders to conduct frank discussions and exchange ideas on future direction for the Arctic.

Co-operation between all partners—along with special recognition of indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic—is essential if the AEPS, an enhanced AEPS, an Arctic Council, or a completely new body is to ensure sustainability in the region.

The declaration made by the indigenous peoples at the leaders summit recognizes this fact and lays out the necessary foundation for workable sustainability. Governments and indigenous peoples must heed the declaration's principles when designing initiatives to make the Arctic's future sustainable.

Circumpolar Inuit have taken a lead role in policy and programme development in the Arctic, and their contribution will be present in any comprehensive vision or strategy for the Arctic. The Declaration of the Arctic Leaders Summit is a logical starting point.

Inuit have worked hard over the past decade to promote sustainable development. There have been successes and failures and there still are many challenges ahead. Co-operation among governments, conservationists, industry, and indigenous peoples will ensure that the Arctic remains the unpolluted and sustainable homeland of Inuit and other indigenous peoples forever.

Chester Reimer is the environmental co-ordinator for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

Declaration of the Arctic Indigenous Leaders Summit

We, the Representatives of the indigenous peoples organizations of the Arctic, being the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Nordic Sami Council, and the USSR Association of Northern Small Peoples;

Meeting at Horsholm, Denmark, for the first Arctic Indigenous Leaders Summit to seek greater mutual understanding and to further our cooperation;

Having respect for the traditional and continuing stewardship of our lands, waters, plants and animals; and for the traditional knowledge of our peoples;

Deeply concerned for the health, well-being and ultimate survival of our peoples, including recognition of our nutritional needs and the rights of renewable resource harvesters, and for the protection of our Arctic environment, both now and in thefuture;

Ever aware of the changes which have affected our peoples, our lands and our rights to decide for ourselves what our future shall be;

Recognizing that there is only one Arctic, and that we share one future together;

Affirming the requirement for sustainable and equitable development in our homeland;

Requiring state governments to recognize and accommodate the rights of aboriginal peoples to self-government, lands, renewable and non-renewable resources, and to recognize their cultural, social and economic rights;

Commending the Arctic governments for their close cooperation with our organizations in the process leading up to the Declaration of Rovanieml, and calling on those Arctic governments to fully implement the spirit as well as the words of the Declaration and of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy;

Declare That:

Arctic indigenous peoples deslre not only to survive, but to thrive as indigenous peoples into this 21st Century. Arctic governments must take affirmative initiatives immediately to work with their indigenous peoples to bridge the rapid global change which impacts our peoples. Adequate resources must be made available by the governments to meet the real social, health, economic and educational needs of the indigenous peoples. New partnerships between the governments and the indigenous peoples must occur to meet the often overwhelming challenges of this rapid global change. Maximum self-determination of the indigenous people is desired.

We adopt as consensus statements of the Summit, the following:

  1. Statement on Subsistence, the Traditional and Direct Dependence on Renewable Resources

  2. Statement on Renewable Resource Harvesting

We agree to continue the collaboration begun here among the Arctic Indigenous Leaders by holding our Second Summit in 1993 to be organized by the Nordic Sami Council.

We further agree that in order to advance our mutual concerns, we will initiate a process leading up to the Second Arctic Indigenous Leaders Summit, to include the following issues:

  • renewable resource harvesting and subsistence rights;

  • traditional ecological knowledge, and

  • the mandate and role of existing and future organizations relevant to the Arctic.

Done at Horsholm, 20 June 1991
Inult Clrcumpolar Conference
Nordic Sami Council
USSR Association of Northern Small Peoples

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