The Economist reports that it is now the Inuit’s turn to push back against corporations seeking to exploit resources in the Arctic. While the media likes to play up the possibility of inter-state conflict around the North Pole, little is said about the conflicts already underway between indigenous peoples and industry. One dispute of note is over the bowhead whales, which spend much of the summer months in the Beaufort Sea. This migration route interferes with Shell’s twelve planned exploratory wells. In 2007, the Inupiat challenged Shell in court, saying the company was violating the 1970 National Environmental Protection Act, as it had not prepared a proper environmental impact statement. In 2009, the Inupiat won an injunction from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and since then, Shell hasn’t been able to move forward with drilling. It still needs to obtain clean air permits from the EPA, and last month, it canceled its plans to begin this summer. Ironically, though, all the research that Shell has been carrying out on bowhead whales to try to build evidence for their case that drilling is safe in Arctic waters has led to the species becoming one of the best understood in the region.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council convened in Ottawa from February 22-23 to discuss resource development in the Arctic, the first time the organization has met solely to discuss the topic. Together, Inuit from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia worked to draft a common Inuit policy towards resource development.
Aqqaluk Lynge, president of the ICC, said,
“We are here to forge a collective vision that says to the world in a united Inuit voice; this is our land, our waters, our ice and the resources you find there are ours, too.”
The draft will be tabled at the meeting of the Arctic Council in Greenland in May.
Besides voicing the usual concerns over offshore drilling, ICC members expressed apprehension over uranium mining. In 2007, Nunavut Tunngavik, the group which manages Inuit land claims in the territory, agreed to permit mining of the radioactive mineral. Areva Resources Canada proposed to construct an open-pit mine near Baker Lake. However, at the summit, the group’s president, Cathy Towtongie, told the Nunutsiaq News,
“We need to take a balanced approach to make sure we do this right…We don’t have the infrastructure at this point.”
To start with, uranium mining will be discussed in Rankin Inlet in March as part of a territorial-wide forum. Though Inuit in Nunavut may eventually come to an agreement on a policy, it will be harder to get Inuit from all of the different Arctic countries to sign off on a common policy towards uranium mining, let alone resource development. For instance, uranium mining is banned in Greenland, though its premier, Kuupik Kleist, is strongly in favor of oil and gas development. Different resources mean different things to the people of the North: whereas Greenland could one day become independent thanks to oil and gas revenues, Inuit in none of the other countries attach such strong political motivations to drilling.
Regardless, the recent ICC summit is the first step towards developing a cohesive policy and strengthening the power of the organization. The meeting also highlights the consultative manner in which the Inuit try to make decisions on resource development issues – an approach that is a model for Arctic development in general.
“Inuit summit scrutinizes resource development,” Nunatsiaq News
“Nunavut Tunngavik to take second look at uranium mining,” Nunatsiaq News