ITK, Inuit Circumpolar Council say cautionary, case-by-case approach needed to development projects.
THE HILL TIMES
July 15, 2013
Leaders representing Canada’s Inuit at the national and international level are calling for a cautionary approach to oil and gas development in the Arctic and rejecting a Greenpeace-led campaign demanding a ban on offshore drilling and a moratorium on onshore hydrocarbon extraction in the region.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and the Inuit Circumpolar Council say it’s up to Inuit communities to determine how resources in their territories are developed, not Greenpeace and other organizations based outside of the Arctic Circle.
Duane Smith, president of Canada’s Inuit Circumpolar Council branch, said that there are a variety of positions on resource development amongst the region’s Inuit, and it’s their decision whether or not projects like mining and offshore drilling take place on their settled territory.
“Some are in favour, some are not. We would prefer to take a cautionary approach to development matters so that our respective Inuit regions are fully engaged, involved, and receiving benefits that they feel are appropriate for the development taking place in their areas,” Mr. Smith told The Hill Times.
ITK president Terry Audla, whose organization represents the 55,000 Inuit living throughout the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Northern Quebec and Labrador nationally, said that his organization does not favour “development at all costs.”
Rather, the pace of development needs to be determined by Inuit communities living within each of the four regions settled under modern land claims agreement.
“In each of those modern land claims agreements, there’s a requirement that Inuit participate and co-manage their renewable and non-renewable resources,” Mr. Audla said. “The advantage is that Inuit have 20-20 hindsight because of their isolation. We can look at what went wrong [elsewhere], what’s been done right, and try to build those into any development.”
The comments from Mr. Audla and Mr. Smith are in stark contrast to the Joint Statement of Indigenous Solidarity for Arctic Protection that was released on May 13, two days before Canada assumed its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council in Kiruna, Sweden.
The strongly worded statement was signed by 41 representatives from Arctic communities and civil society, and demands a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic shelf, a moratorium on Arctic onshore drilling, and that all “extraction and industrialization” of land require the informed “explicit consent” of indigenous inhabitants.
“Our culture and history cannot be bought off and replaced with pipelines and drill rigs. Our way of living defines who we are and we will stand up and fight for our nature and environment,” the document’s preamble states. “Our rights and ability to sustain ourselves must not be trampled by others’ endless hunger for profits.”
Organized by Greenpeace, the statement includes signatories from five of the eight Arctic Council member states—Canada, Russia, the U.S., Denmark, and Sweden. A number of representatives of Arctic Council permanent participant groups also signed the document, including Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, who is international vice chair of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. Chief Erasmus could not be reached for comment.
Other permanent participant organizations to have members sign the declaration included the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami Council.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council is also an Arctic Council permanent participant. Mr. Smith acknowledged that his organization has members who oppose oil and gas development in their territory.
“Some of the Inuit regions have a lot of experience dealing with these issues and some don’t have any at all. The position is going to be varied amongst each of those areas because of that,” he said.
Kiera Kolson, a Greenpeace campaigner and member of the Dene Nation, defended the statement opposing Arctic resource development. She said that it was not a Greenpeace initiative—the organization only helped to “create the space” for the groups to come together and develop the statement at the 2012 Indigenous Peoples of the North Conference held in Northern Russia.
“We’re dealing with a very aggressive government right now where the indigenous voice and indigenous inherent rights are being undermined,” Ms. Kolson told The Hill Times. “We will continue to challenge reckless development because the [developers] don’t have the solutions for a large-scale spill. The fact of the matter is that oil drilling is dangerous.”
Canada has made no secret that it plans to make Arctic economic development its top priority during its chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and mineral and hydrocarbon resources are expected to spur that development.
Briefings notes prepared for Health Minister and Arctic Council Chair Leona Aglukkaq (Nunavut) ahead of her October 2012 Arctic tour, obtained by The Hill Times through the Access to Information Act, identify development for northern peoples as the overarching theme of Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Three sub-themes are identified: Arctic resource development, responsible and safe Arctic shipping, and sustainable circumpolar communities.
The notes, part of a discussion paper for consultation with Arctic stakeholders, identify natural resource development as “central to the economic future of the circumpolar region.”
“Arctic Council initiatives could be built around and support Canada’s priorities to increase investment and development in the Northern resource sector,” the paper suggests in reference to existing priorities under the Conservative government’s Northern Strategy. “Initiatives should highlight and reinforce Canadian leadership in this area, and engage industry and the business community.”
There has been extensive oil and gas exploration throughout Canada’s Arctic waters, but currently no producing wells. That’s expected to change in the coming years as waters remain open for longer periods of time, allowing for more industrial activity by all Arctic Council members.
Mr. Audla acknowledged that Arctic resource development posed a challenge to the people who live in the region.
“When it comes to non-renewable resources, there’s nothing sustainable about it,” he said. “It’s a matter of responsible extraction and extracting it and shipping it in a way that is not a detriment to the wildlife, habitat, and the health of our people.”
However, he added that the Inuit should not be told by outsiders what they can and cannot do in their own territory.
“For an outside group to try to dictate to us how to manage development is just not right. We can manage our own affairs,” Mr. Audla said. “The next step is for the rest of the world to [deal with] their over-reliance on oil and emission-causing activities need to be stemmed. In the meantime, Inuit are not going to be taxed and told they can’t develop while the rest of the world is.”