My Little Corner of Canada, June 26

The Arctic Ocean


Back in the 1950s and even into the 1960s, many official maps of Canada didn’t include the High Arctic islands.

Even maps in schools stopped at the northern mainland coast and the Arctic Islands were described as a wasteland of ice and snow where nobody lived. Map makers and government officials dismissed the islands as worthless and didn’t really care if they were a part of Canada or not.

There was even a joke that God spent the seventh day throwing rocks at Baffin Island. It turns out that many of those rocks were pretty valuable.

Norway named several islands after Norwegian explorers and made noises about having sovereignty claims in the High Arctic. The average Canadian didn’t know and didn’t care.

Now the situation is different. Vast reserves of oil and natural gas are believed to be under the islands and waters of the High Arctic. Many countries including superpowers like the U.S., Russia, and China, are scrambling to lay claims of interest to the polar region of the world.

They smell oil. They smell money. All of a sudden the High Arctic has become very important.

Back in the 1970s, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now the Inuit Circumpolar Council), urged the Arctic nations of Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the U.S. to create an Arctic Council with the mandate to plan how the Arctic region was to be developed and its environment protected. The Arctic Council has now been in existence for several years.

This year, the U.S. took its turn in appointing the chair of the council. The American secretary of state, John Kerry, is now the chair. The status of the Arctic Council has suddenly grown to that of global importance.

Non-Arctic nations like China, India, Korea, and the powerful city-state of Singapore are sending large delegations to the meetings of the Arctic Council. They are scrambling to influence the decisions made by the council.

Russia is increasing its presence in the Arctic regions. China is building a powerful nuclear powered ice breaker in anticipation of a resource rush to the Arctic. Singapore is eyeing the Northwest Passage as a possible new global trading route as global warming melts the ice.

It is possible in the coming years that we could see the navies of the military powers playing cat-and-mouse on and under the Arctic Ocean. It is possible that we could see giant oil tankers and Panama-registered freighters plying the waters of the Northwest Passage.

What the Arctic Council does in the future will be crucial. In the meantime, the Inuit voice seems to be fading into the background. The Inuit Circumpolar Council, our Arctic governments, and our regional organizations need to be more vigilant and make sure our voice continues to be heard.

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