ICC split over Marine Mammal Protection Act

Unlike Canadian Inuit, Alaskan Inuit oppose changes to the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.


MONTREAL — After last week’s Arctic Council meeting in Washington, D.C., the Inuit Circumpolar Conference’s executive council sat down to tackle international issues of its own, including the trade in marine mammal products and humanitarian aid to Chukotka.

In Washington, D.C., ICC held a one-day session devoted to trade, featuring speakers from Canada, Alaska, Norway and Greenland.

What the Alaskans had to say surprised many of those present — that Alaskan aboriginal people are afraid of making any changes to the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act because it’s the only piece of legislation that guarantees them any subsistence hunting rights.

ICC’s Sheila Watt-Cloutier said that the message from the Alaskan speakers was that they’re in “complete terror” of seeing even this minimal protection disappear if the MMPA is amended.

While Inuit in Canada and Greenland have opposed the MMPA because of the constraints it puts on commercial trade, Watt-Cloutier said ICC will have to be sensitive to the Alaskans’ concerns because ICC also represents Inuit in Alaska.

“We have to be cautious,” she said. “It’s hard for us, who have rights entrenched constitutionally, to fathom what they’re going through.”

Watt-Cloutier said that ICC will begin working with Alaskan native groups early in the new year to see if there are other ways that their hunting rights could be legally guaranteed.

At the ICC executive council meeting, also held in the U.S. capital, ICC threw its support behind the Yupik Eskimo Society of Chutkotka.

Two Chutkotkans, Lubov Otrokova and Ludmilla Ainana, managed to attend this meeting, despite airline fuel shortages which have cancelled air traffic from the region.

“What they say is always the same,” Watt-Cloutier said. “It’s very difficult, and if it wasn’t for their traditional hunting skills, there would be a famine.”

But Watt-Cloutier said money earmarked by the Red Cross doesn’t always make it to improverished Yupik communities in the outlying areas of the Chukotkan peninsula.

ICC’s executive passed a resolution encouraging the International Federation of the Red Cross and Russian Red Cross to work closely with indigenous peoples’ organizations in Russia to plan and deliver humanitarian assistance to Chutkotka.

And it also offered support to the Yupik Eskimo Society, which was recently abolished by the governor and court of Chutkotka.

The ICC resolution says that the Chukotkan authorities “repeatedly and systematically harass institutions established by Yupik Eskimos”, that “the Governor of Chutkotka refuses to allow foreign and domestic scientists, foreign indigenous peoples and others to visit Chukotka without his special persmission” and that he is “manipulating and undermining the democratic process for the forthcoming local and national elections.”

ICC’s resolution supports the Yupik Eskimo Society’s efforts to reregister as a legal entity.

It censures the governor, urges the Russian minister repsohsible for Northern Development to investigate the abuses and calls for official observers during the upcoming elections.

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