Bob Weber, Canadian Press, Feb. 20, 2011
OTTAWA - Inuit leaders from the circumpolar world are to meet in Ottawa this week to hammer out a common front on the development of Arctic resources including offshore oil.
"We share the same ocean, the same air, the same land," said Edward Itta, mayor of Alaska's North Slope Borough. "We have a lot in common and we're trying to build better bonds and forge them into a strong united effort to get our voices and concerns heard."
The Arctic has seen an increasing focus on its resources over the last few years as commodity prices rise and melting sea ice unlocks troves of oil, gas and minerals. Energy companies are poised to drill off the Arctic shores of both Canada and the United States, while exploratory drilling has already begun off Greenland.
Shipping through the Northwest Passage is slowly increasing and is likely to grow with the eventual development of projects such as the massive iron deposit at Baffin Island's Mary River. Fisheries and tourism are also expanding in the Arctic.
"These activities are not going to slow down or go away any time soon," said Duane Smith, head of the Canadian branch of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which is sponsoring the summit. "We're trying to ensure we have some control or say over these activities taking place in our backyard."
The summit is expected to yield a common statement on resource development, Smith said.
"We hope to come up with a baseline set of standards we can agree on."
The summit is bringing together leaders from Greenland, Canada, the U.S. and Russia on Wednesday and Thursday to decide how to protect Inuit interests and ensure that they get a share of the wealth — the first time that's been done on the resources front.
"Revenue-sharing, world-class oilspill responses and prevention ... need to be developed (as well as) enforcement of current regulations ... Those are things that are going to be a common theme," said Itta.
"We want standards put in that will reflect our way of life."
There are differences between the groups.
Alaskan Inuit have been living with the energy industry for a generation already. Greenland's Inuit, through their government, control resources to an extent others can only dream of. Aboriginal rights are defined differently in each country.
"We all face challenges of economic development that are common across the Arctic, but we're under four different jurisdictions, so one-size-fits-all cannot be applied here," said Inuuteq Holm Olsen, Greenland's deputy foreign minister.
Holm Olsen said much of the discussion is likely to involve information-sharing and comparisons.
"We have something to learn on how (environmental) assessments are done."
Itta said the conference is likely to end with recommendations that Inuit are guaranteed an active role in decision-making and ensured a share of resource revenues. He said delegates are also likely to recommend an extensive program of scientific research to establish environmental baselines before industry revs up any further.
Getting governments to acknowledge those concerns will also be on the agenda.
"We're going to be looking at ways to get some teeth into our concerns," Itta said.
Inuit already have a pretty record on that, said Prof. Michael Byers at the University of British Columbia.
He notes Inuit regularly sit at the same table as national governments at the Arctic Council, which is slowly increasing in influence. Inuit also have the ear of some powerful politicians — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly chastised Canada when it failed to include the Inuit in a recent meeting of Arctic nations in Chelsea, Que.
"(Inuit) in the past have had a surprising amount of influence," said Byers.
For the original text, see: Inuit to stand together