A new role for the Inuit Circumpolar Council?
“Everything it has done and said has been agreed to”
Editor of Sermitsiaq, Greenland’s leading newspaper
The Inuit Circumpolar Council general assembly in Nuuk this week will reveal whether it is still relevant or whether it is an organization that has outlived its purpose.
At age 30, most organizations are still trying to define their goals, but the ICC, founded in 1980, is already a success: it has accomplished everything that was on its original to-do list.
• Individual Inuit areas collaborate across international borders;
• States work together in the Arctic Council;
• Human rights are respected in all Inuit areas;
• Inuit culture, language and way of life are universally respected; and,
• A permanent UN committee has been set up for indigenous groups, thanks in part to the tireless work of the ICC.
The world lends its support to Inuit in cases of human rights violations, or abuses of Arctic culture, language or way of life.
Not only is supporting Inuit causes fashionable, in fact, it’s actually politically correct.
All of the above have been accomplished by the ICC over the past 30 years thanks to the efforts of a handful of people who dedicated their lives to the organization’s work.
Have a look at the picture of the original ICC leadership, and you’ll be able to see which of them still work in the organization.
It is worth noting that current ICC President Jimmy Stotts, and the host of this year’s meeting, ICC-Greenland president Aqqaluk Lynge, are still there. Each have worked tirelessly for the ICC since it was founded in 1980.
The ICC has gone from being a protest organization to the mainstream, from exciting to boring. Everything it has done and said has been agreed to. National governments follow its instructions. What then is the point of the ICC? What role can it take on?
The interesting thing is that the ICC has never enjoyed popular support — or at least not enough for the ICC to be completely funded by contributions from members, foundations and companies.
The reason is that people have not been fully aware of the scope of the efforts that the ICC has made at the highest levels in order to ensure that the Inuit could win official recognition. This isn’t something we notice in our day-to-day lives, but we will in the years to come.
The ICC could stop right here, call its mission complete and hand over its responsibilities to the national representative bodies.
We believe, however, that there is still a need for the ICC. We still need a non-governmental organization that points out the injustices that still exist.
But that NGO needs to be able to take a critical view of national governments and legislators who form policies that affect our lives and guide the development of our society.
Delegates to the general assembly will all say that Arctic peoples from different countries need to work together. They’ve been saying that for 30 years.
But what have they accomplished? The most important transport routes — be it by sea or by air — and the key lines of mass communication still go north-south, rather than east-west.
We should be able to feed each other and share experiences. Alaska’s Inuit are familiar with the effects of oil exploration and drilling. Greenland is headed down the same path, and Alaska’s Inuit could provide them with important guidance.
Alaska’s Inuit are familiar with the effects of cruise ship tourism on a much larger scale than that experienced by Greenland. They could help us here as well.
In order for the volume of east-west traffic in the Arctic to increase, we need more intra-regional trade and economic integration. It isn’t enough for us to buy a handful of snowmobiles or American cars or Canadian Snow Goose parkas. Much more is required.
We need to put our money where our hopes are. The air and shipping routes we need to bring us closer together will not be built on culture and language alone.
We need improved communications, and, here, the internet plays a key role. But, once again, we need to find a way to pay for new initiatives.
The ICC’s next role should be to integrate our economies, and it ought to return to its roots by protesting the north-south trade that comes at the expense of east-west trade. In general, the ICC needs to be a watchdog that holds national parliaments and legislators to what they promise about trade, transport and integration here at the general assembly.
It’s nice to talk to each other. It’s nice to dance with each other, or kayak, go dog sledding, wear national costumes, play music and all the other cultural things, but we can’t afford to do that if we don’t work to improve our economies.
Here’s a challenge to the ICC: let’s make the best of climate change, let’s use it for something positive that can create Inuit unity founded on a healthy economy.