Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut January 23, 2004 - 1:49 pm

ICC council confronts challenges, frustrations

Four national units talk about their daunting goals at Iqaluit gathering

JANE GEORGE

Immense distances, large problems, poor infrastructure, limited power, little cash, big dreams and high expectations.

When the executive council of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference met in Iqaluit this week, the organization representing Inuit in Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia grappled with the same challenges that confront Inuit organizations and governments throughout the circumpolar world.

Until this week, when ICC’s executive council inaugurated an office provided by Nunavut’s Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, ICC couldn’t find any reasonably-priced space in Iqaluit.

At least, ICC’s president, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, now has a place to work with her new assistant, Miali Coley, who is also head of ICC’s youth council.

And with help from offices in Ottawa and the other ICC member nations, the ICC will continue work in five priority areas: economic development, culture, language and communications, internal operations, human rights and sustainable development.

Over the past year, ICC has received international attention for its stand on global warming, POPs (persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs), and human rights, and continued its work in such organizations as the Arctic Council and the United Nations.

However, as they met for three days in Iqaluit, ICC executives underlined their frustration in achieving all their goals.

In Canada, the vexing matters include finding ways to provide leadership and visibility while doing justice to the pressing global issues of climate change and contaminant pollution.

In Greenland, it’s finding the energy to pursue their fight for the Thule Inuit who were relocated to Qaanaaq in 1953, while continuing international human rights work. ICC Greenland suffered a big blow in the Danish Supreme Court last November when they lost an appeal for more compensation and rights.

“The power is in the attempt when you defend Inuit rights,” Watt-Cloutier said in consoling ICC Greenland’s president, Aqqaluk Lynge, about the efforts ICC Greenland, and, in particular, Lynge, have made on behalf of the Inughuit relocatees.

In Alaska, the challenge is rallying the Inupiat and Yupik communities, and their development corporations, to see the relevance of ICC when they’re already heavily involved in the powerful Alaskan Federation of Natives and over-burdened with local responsibilities.

“One of the challenges we face is just to have a board meeting,” said Chuck Greene, ICC Alaska’s president.

However, a board meeting must review and formally approve a resolution in favour of holding the next ICC general assembly, scheduled for June, 2006, in Barrow, Alaska.

Greene and Alaskan ICC executive Mic hael Pederson said ICC Alaska plans more education about ICC’s role and purpose.

“You are really a strong foothold for us, and we can’t permit it to waver,” Duane Smith, ICC Canada’s president, told the Alaskans.

In Russia, survival is the main obstacle that ICC must overcome. ICC Chukotka has to find something just to hang on to in a region plagued by high unemployment, alcoholism, poor communication and cultural disinterest.

That’s not to say that ICC isn’t trying hard.

ICC Chukotka is cooperating with the local association for sobriety. Last December, a store opened in the city Anadyr to sell ivory products, under a joint Canadian-Russian project called “Marketing modern arts and crafts of Chukotka’s indigenous peoples.”

The store’s opening was “a miracle,” said ICC Chukotka’s president, Natalia Rodionova, but, in spite of the new outlet, artists have trouble with transportation and getting enough raw material, so the store is often closed.

Rodionova, a linguist and teacher, is working on a textbook on the Yupik language and writes a Yupik column every month in the local paper, Krainy Sever, The Far North.

ICC Chukotka held a party in December to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the first teacher in the Providenya district, who compiled the first Russia-Yupik dictionary.

ICC has also asked the World Bank for money to publish a newspaper in the Yupik language as another way to increase awareness of language and culture.

But Rodionova, who teaches Yupik, said through an interpreter that there’s not much interest in learning the Yupik language. A resident of Anadyr, far removed from the Chukotkan Yupik-speaking villages, Rodionova said she speaks to her children in Russian.

But ICC Chukotka isn’t giving up - there was to be a traditional feast for youth this month, and there are plans to have an ICC Chukotka sports team.

Apart from the many hurdles that make ICC’s work difficult, the executive council looked at a variety of programs such as “Future of children and youth in the Arctic,” the international meetings ICC attends, as well as special projects.

Anders Berndtsson from the Nordic Institute of Greenland, a cultural arm of the Nordic Council of Ministers, was in Iqaluit to seek support from the ICC for a joint dance production that would combine traditional Norse, Saami and Greenlandic elements.

The production would premier at the next ICC assembly and then tour the circumpolar world.

The ICC executives also heard from elders’ representative David Angnakak of Pangnirtung and youth president Coley, who both underlined the need for better communication.

The council will meet again in Nuuk, Greenland on June 21, the Greenland home rule government’s 25th anniversary.

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