Alaska prepares to lead Inuit Circumpolar Conference

After months of decline, Alaskan Inuit are gaining momentum before the 2006 general assembly

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

SARA MINOGUE

Last year was a rocky one for the Alaska office of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. By July 2004 the board of directors hadn’t made a decision in 12 months, the budget had been cut in half, and members were proving unresponsive to rescheduled meetings.

Now, the president of ICC Alaska says the Alaska office has “stabilized” and that planning for the 2006 general assembly in Barrow is underway.

“We’re kind of behind the eightball…,” said Chuck Greene from Anchorage. “But I think we’ll be able to pull it off for a general assembly meeting for June or July of 2006.”

The general assembly takes place every four years, in the country that is about to take over the chairmanship of the ICC.

Last summer it seemed doubtful that ICC Alaska would be able to take on the challenge of organizing the event. Greene credits the turnaround to ICC Alaska’s new executive director, Jack Zayon, who has been working steadily in their main office for almost eight months, distributing information from other ICC nations to Alaska’s members, and providing a stable base for the organization.

The assembly is tentatively scheduled to coincide with the traditional whaling feasts in Barrow, in the North Slope region, where the very first ICC gathering took place in 1977. Greene says he expects to welcome as many as 2,000 delegates, observers, speakers, performers and other guests.

Barrow is the home town of the late Eben Hobson, who founded the ICC in the mid-1970s, a time when oil and gas finds were attracting more and more interest in Inuit lands. With the exception of the Alaskans, who had achieved a landmark land claim with the U. S. government in 1971, the Inuit in these lands had little in the way of a political voice.

“We’re going to make it known that Eben Hobson was the founder and he was a former mayor of the North Slope Borough,” Greene said. “We’re going to revisit his vision and acknowledge the people that have been co-founders of ICC.

“It started here in Alaska and we want to celebrate that.”

Earlier this month, ICC President Sheila Watt-Cloutier visited the North Slope Borough to discuss the plans, which she agrees are late in starting.

“They feel that they can and they want to,” said Watt-Cloutier. “And we feel that it’s the most opportune time now for Alaska to take on the chairmanship because the biggest challenges that we’re faced with… often is with the United States, and I think it’s a really key time for them, as American citizens, to start to bridge that gap and work to influence their own government.”

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