Arctic Council needs tweaking, not an overhaul: ICC

“The direct input of indigenous peoples… is what makes the council successful.”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

Bridget Larocque, left, executive director of the Gwitch’in Council International, speaks at a forum on the role of the Arctic Council in Toronto Jan. 17. She and fellow panelist, Kirt Ejesiak of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada) both credit the council for allowing for direct input of its indigenous members. (PHOTO BY MEGAN HARRISON/GORDON FOUNDATION)


Bridget Larocque, left, executive director of the Gwitch’in Council International, speaks at a forum on the role of the Arctic Council in Toronto Jan. 17. She and fellow panelist, Kirt Ejesiak of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada) both credit the council for allowing for direct input of its indigenous members. (PHOTO BY MEGAN HARRISON/GORDON FOUNDATION)

The Arctic Council needs tweaking, but not a complete overhaul, says Kirt Ejesiak, vice-president of international affairs at the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Canadian branch.

Ejesiak spoke Jan. 17 at a Toronto conference discussing the role of the Arctic Council, on a panel called “Indigenous perspectives.”

“ICC believes that the Arctic Council’s existing governance structure has allowed for direct and meaningful participation among Inuit,” Ejesiak told the forum. “The direct input of indigenous peoples at the table is what makes the council successful.”

The forum, titled the Arctic Council: Its place in the future of Arctic governance is being held a year before Canada assumes its two-year term as chair of the council in 2013. The Toronto forum will recommend the issues Canada should pursue as council chair.

Calls for the reform of the 16-year-old organization have been ongoing, Ejesiak said, but the council needs only tweaking – not an entire overhaul.

In the eyes of the ICC, strengthening the Arctic Council means looking for funding and building the participation of Inuit, he said.

The council’s structure could be more conducive towards bringing Inuit issues to the table by bridging the gap between Inuit regions across the world, Ejesiak said.

“Change is important, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he told the forum.

Ejesiak said the ICC supports observer status for non-Arctic countries, as long as they support the Inuit way of life.

“Inuit welcome input from others. We believe (observers) can play a positive role at the Arctic Council, but we need to remind them they’re observers and not decision makers,” he said. “I believe the Arctic Council will be judged on its ability to include indigenous peoples in future decision-making.”

Ejesiak’s fellow panelist, Métis leader Bridget Larocque, agreed that the council does not require serious reform, so long as it continues to supports the voices of its indigenous members.

“Any strengthening is our responsibility,” said Larocque, executive director of the Inuvik, NWT-based Gwitch’in Council International. “But the rights of indigenous people…. should never be compromised.”

The Arctic Council forum wraps up Jan. 18.

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