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Circumpolar Agreement Affirms Inuit Development Rights

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As the Arctic thaws, the question of resource development is coming more to the fore, and a recent agreement finalizing the Inuit position on such ventures is earning accolades from northern aboriginal leaders in setting out guidelines for how to proceed in this changing environment.

Signed in Nuuk, Greenland, by international Inuit leaders just before the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in mid-May, the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resource Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat lays out conditions that entail striking a balance: Resource development is important, the Inuit say. However, it must occur “at a rate sufficient to provide durable and diversified economic growth, but constrained enough to forestall environmental degradation and an overwhelming influx of outside labor,” the document says.

Invoking both the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignty in the Arctic, which the Inuit Circumpolar Council adopted in 2009, the document states, “Inuit must be active and equal partners in policy-making and decision-making affecting Inuit Nunaat,” the Inuit regions of Canada.

“The world is on notice that while Inuit look forward to new forms and levels of economic development, the use of resources in the Arctic must be conducted in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way, and must deliver direct and substantial benefits to Inuit,” said Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), which represents Canada’s four Inuit regions—Nunatsiavut (Labrador), Nunavik (northern Quebec), Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories.

Or, as the agreement puts it: “All resource development must contribute actively and significantly to improving Inuit living standards and social conditions, and non-renewable resource development, in particular, must promote economic diversification through contributions to education and other forms of social development, physical infrastructure, and non-extractive industries,” the document states. “Inuit welcome the opportunity to work in full partnership with resource developers, governments and local communities in the sustainable development of resources of Inuit Nunaat, including related policy-making, to the long-lasting benefit of Inuit and with respect for baseline environmental and social responsibilities.”

The Circumpolar Region comprises Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, USA (Alaska), Greenland and Iceland. All are jockeying for sovereignty rights. Potential development includes everything from mining to offshore oil drilling.