Circumpolar Inuit body to consult this month on North Water Polynya

ICC ponders future of rich marine ecosystem between Nunavut and Greenland

By STEVE DUCHARME

The Inuit Circumpolar Council's international chair, Okalik Eegeesiak (left), with former Nunavut premier Eva Aariak (right) and former Greenland premier Kuupik Kleist (centre), are members of the Pikialaorsuaq Commission, which the ICC set up to consult Inuit in Greenland and Canada about management options for the ecologically rich North Water polynya. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ICC)


The Inuit Circumpolar Council’s international chair, Okalik Eegeesiak (left), with former Nunavut premier Eva Aariak (right) and former Greenland premier Kuupik Kleist (centre), are members of the Pikialaorsuaq Commission, which the ICC set up to consult Inuit in Greenland and Canada about management options for the ecologically rich North Water polynya. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ICC)

The North Water Polynya is an ecologically rich expanse of open water that lies between Canada and Greenland. (MAP COURTESY OF PEW RESEARCH)


The North Water Polynya is an ecologically rich expanse of open water that lies between Canada and Greenland. (MAP COURTESY OF PEW RESEARCH)

High Arctic residents will get a chance this month to weigh in on the future of the North Water Polynya, an ecologically rich expanse of water between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, thanks to a series of consultations planned by the Inuit Circumpolar Council and its newly formed Pikialaorsuaq Commission.

The consultations are unprecedented because of the level of Inuit involvement in influencing the future of the multi-jurisdictional region, said the ICC’s international chair, Okalik Eegeesiak.

The North Water Polynya lies between Canadian and Danish waters and a portion of it also lies inside the Nunavut Land Claims Settlement Area.

“We want to consult with Inuit on its current use and what Inuit might want to see discussed for its future use — considerations that Inuit want for the future of the area to protect it, to make sure that’s its biodiversity is continued,” Eegeesiak told Nunatsiaq News April 11.

Eegeesiak chairs the three-person commission. The other two members are former Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak and former Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist.

The consultation meetings will be held in Grise Fiord April 28 to April 30 with another visit scheduled for Pond Inlet between April 30 and May 2.

Key stakeholders from Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay and Clyde River will be invited to attend those two meetings.

Eegeesiak says it’s important to reach out to Inuit before the area is impacted by potential future development.

The North Water Polynya is a historically vital zone for Inuit, rich in wildlife, which must be ensured for future generations, Eegeesiak said.

“We want Inuit to have the first say in how the region could be used, should be used,” Eegeesiak said.

As for which direction the commission’s final report will lean, that’s up to Inuit to decide.

“If Inuit want to talk conservation area, then we’ll recommend conservation area,” said Eegeesiak.

But she says the ICC is interested in exploring the region’s potential for regulated development in shipping, mining and fishing.

“That’s one of the things we’ll be looking into and researching… If we want to avoid that, how do we avoid that? If we want to support activity, how do we best do so without negative impact to the communities,” Eegeesiak said.

The ICC is citing examples further south of legal troubles that can be avoided if Inuit are consulted first before development moves in.

That includes Clyde River’s legal fight to prevent seismic testing in Baffin Bay as well as the developing legal dispute between environmental organizations and the Government of Canada over the validity of offshore oil permits in Lancaster Sound granted to Shell Canada in the 1970s.

“I use that experience now in my talks to different forums to say that we don’t have to go to court. All you have to do is include Inuit from the beginning and use proper consultation to make sure that we participate and find a common ground,” said Eegeesiak.

The commission will move to Greenland in August to consult neighboring communities once consultations in Nunavut are completed.

Canadian and Greenlandic Inuit relations are particularly strong in areas adjacent to the North Water Polynya; historically, the area has seen the greatest contact between Canada and Greenland.

“Inuit from Greenland and Canada use this area for hunting, and previously, before passports were required, Inuit travelled back and forth between Qaanaaq and Grise Fiord,” Eegeesiak said.

Eegeesiak expects the commission’s final report to be tabled with ICC’s board by the end of October, after a round of follow-up consultations is conducted.

Oceans North Canada, the World Wildlife Fund Canada and an international philanthropic organization called the Oak Foundation are helping to fund the commission’s work, but the ICC confirms they are still seeking additional funding.

“Inuit want to be included and participate in whatever happens in our region and in our communities, so we hope to use this experience for anything that industry or governments want to do up here,” Eegeesiak said.

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