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Speeches and Presentations

The Climate Change Bind for Inuit: The Double Burden of Impacts & Campaigns

Unravelling the Arctic Panel Discussion

The Climate Change Bind for Inuit: The Double Burden of Impacts & Campaigns

Ottawa, April 22, 2015

Ullukat. Good morning,

I would like to thank the Canadian Climate Forum for inviting me to participate in this discussion today and for recognizing that a discussion of arctic climate change that does not include the people of the arctic would be an incomplete discussion.

And thank you to my fellow panelists and to everyone here for taking the time to come and listen today.

I would like to provide you not only with an overview of the impacts of human-induced climate change on Inuit and Inuit actions to adapt to and call for global action to mitigate climate change impacts, but also to explain the very large burden and distressing “bind” for Inuit of the well-intentioned – but when misinformed – damaging impacts of arctic environmental campaigns.

I want to unravel that bind for you today.

I am honoured to speak to you today as President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

ITK, which means Inuit are united in Canada, is the national organization representing approximately 60,000 Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat and in other parts of Canada.

Inuit Nunangat, which means our Inuit homeland, makes up 40% of Canada’s landmass and 50% of Canada’s coastline.

Inuit Nunangat is essentially comprised of the four Inuit land claim regions that geographically and jurisdictionally create a continuous chain stretching across Canada’s entire north.

The Inuit land claims organizations – the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in Canada’s western arctic, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated in Nunavut, Makivik Corporation in Nunavik, northern Quebec and the Nunatsiavut Government in Nunatsiavut, northern Labrador – work tirelessly to protect the treaty rights of their respective Inuit beneficiaries.

These organizations oversee the recognition and implementation of these rights through law, policy, and administrative action of government and other actors.

I cannot stress how important these comprehensive land claims agreements are for Inuit and for Canada. They provide Inuit with the fundamental building blocks and foundation to develop and advance our society.  Our land claims are a result of the strength and self-determination of our Inuit leaders and communities to decolonize our traditional territories and to enter into Canada’s confederation with our rights and interests firmly in-hand – protected and recognized at the highest levels of law.

As you can see on the slide the lands and waters covered by Inuit claims stretch in a continuous chain from Alaska to Labrador.

Inuit are the largest non-Crown landowners in Canada. Our claims are living documents implemented in a spirit of reconciliation and partnership in a changing world. Our claims are protected by Canada’s Constitution Act and hold interpretive primacy over conflicting Canadian federal, provincial and territorial laws.

For more than 40 years, ITK, its member Inuit organizations and the Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada) have worked to defend and to secure legal and political recognition of the rights and interests of Canadian Inuit both on a national and an international level.

These rights have included our foundational right to self-determination including the right to participate in decision-making on matters that affect the lands and marine areas, including the ice and water, we have traditionally used and occupied.

Those unfamiliar with the arctic may not be aware that Inuit have long faced the challenge of the impacts of misinformed and at times romanticized visions and views of the arctic and of Inuit.

In fact, Inuit have essentially taken on the challenge of reaching out to southern Canadians and the international community to raise awareness of the arctic and of Inuit.

The magnitude of this outreach challenge was highlighted in Canada a few years ago by a national survey that we commissioned and dubbed the “northern poll”. Our poll showed that while most Canadians would like to know more about the arctic and Inuit – recognizing that climate change is affecting Inuit more than any other group of Canadians – their working knowledge of the arctic and Inuit issues was not strong.

Let me draw you a quick picture of Inuit realities, Inuit observations of climate change, their impacts and Inuit adaptations.  This diagram illustrates the interconnections identified by Inuit in all four Inuit regions more than a decade ago.

I will briefly outline several main areas of particular concern to Inuit:

For many years, Inuit have documented and shared their knowledge and use of sea ice along with their observations of the variability in changing sea ice conditions. This includes altered bird, mammal and fish migration patterns, altered traditional travel routes and shifting access to country food.

Wildlife harvesting remains key to Inuit. Wildlife and harvesting are central to Inuit subsistence, nutrition, and contemporary culture. 70% of Canadian Inuit households are active in wildlife harvesting and consume wild or country foods.

The sharing of country foods is key to Inuit culture, where more than 90% of households who harvest wildlife, share their harvests with other households.

Climate change is impacting migration patterns, human access to wildlife, altering Inuit traditional travel routes and impacting Inuit consumption patterns, food preparation methods and food storage.

There is increasing concern with emerging diseases and the introduction of new species. Adaptation is taking place as experienced hunters are changing their hunting strategies and responding proactively to the increased risks.

Early Canadian arctic resource management, including wildlife management efforts, excluded Inuit from decision-making and undermined Inuit hunting and sharing economies.

Today’s constitutionally protected co-management partnerships came into existence as a product of Canada’s modern-day claims era in the 1970s, and came to fully define Inuit participation in resource management decision-making as we know it today.

Cooperative approaches are fundamental to arctic wildlife research and management efforts and co-management boards and Inuit governments place a key role in meeting multi-jurisdictional wildlife and resource management needs.

Inuit have agreed to the co-management approach and we want to see it supported, not only by Inuit and governments in our regions. We want the co-management process to be supported by the research and scientific community, and interests both inside and outside of Canada.

Conservation values and advocacy campaigns morally opposed to hunting and/or sustainable use principles are increasingly influencing discussions in global settings. They are also marginalizing the values and realities of Inuit and co-management partnerships in a changing arctic where information needs are large and increasing, and adaptive management and collaborative partnerships are key to the conservation of arctic species.

If we talk about problems with the environment and wildlife in the Arctic, then the co-management systems we have in place are meant to be an important solution for ensuring conservation and sustainability. We want the world to support such systems.

Culture is inextricably linked to the environment with knowledge of seasonal rhythms, weather predictions, animal migration routes, in addition to the quantity and quality of sea ice.

Research is a priority at ITK and the Inuit Qaujisarvingat, or Inuit Knowledge Centre is guided by a National Committee with representation from Inuit organizations across Canada’s arctic.

Given the growing research interest throughout the Inuit regions it is important to promote and facilitate knowledge exchange between Inuit and western science. This includes the identification and development of appropriate priorities, processes and protocols for Inuit.

We also seek to and support the collection, discovery, preservation and use of Inuit Knowledge and make that information accessible. By doing this we want to ensure Inuit become full partners and leaders in Arctic research which will lead to the generation of innovative knowledge for improved science and policy decision making within a Canadian, circumpolar, and global context.

On that front, for a decade Canada’s Centre of Excellence on arctic climate change research, ArcticNet, has included an Inuit Advisory Committee (IAC) that provides guidance and recommendations related to needs and priorities of Inuit with regards to strategic planning, research needs and gaps, input of traditional knowledge, community involvement, participation, training and education.

A close connection to the land and regular country food consumption means that Inuit depend heavily on the health of the Arctic’s biodiversity for individual and community wellness.

Climate change is influencing contaminant pathways and communities will need appropriate and increased amounts of updated monitoring information to make informed decisions about their food use choices.

Inuit face unique challenges to obtaining adequate supplies of safe, nutritionally balanced and culturally acceptable foods; this includes both market foods shipped from the south and country foods harvested from the land and waters.

Because of these challenges there is an extremely high rate of food insecurity that exists throughout Inuit regions. A large scale health survey called the Inuit Health Survey found that the prevalence of Inuit food insecurity was up to six times higher than the Canadian average. This is the highest rate of food insecurity for any Aboriginal population in a developed country.

Human health in the Arctic is holistically linked to many key determinants of health notably in the environment. A wide range of potential impacts include decreased water quantity and quality in some areas and increased disease and parasites in some wildlife subpopulations. Inuit are reporting effects on mental health, culture, knowledge and traditional activities.

Income disparities exist between Southern and Northern Canada impacting the Arctic to greater degrees. Inuit will need to address the aggregate economic impacts of climate change due to increased need for adaptation and changes to traditional economies.

The median income of Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat is significantly lower than the median income of the non-Aboriginal population and the unemployment rate for Inuit adults of core working age is four times higher than their non-aboriginal counterparts.

To make matters worse, the cost-of-living in these regions is much higher than in southern Canada with heating, electricity, water, gasoline, household goods and grocery foods costing significantly more with the proportion of total household expenditures spent on food two to three times higher than the rest of Canada.

Climate change has already impacted Arctic infrastructure from collapsing bridges to key building damage influencing community management decisions. With melting permafrost, sea level rise and shoreline erosion – risk assessment and comprehensive planning tools are increasingly needed in Inuit communities.

Finally, important and difficult policy decisions are upon us as the Government of Canada, other interested actors and Inuit, negotiate in the areas of land claim agreements, self-government, and self-determination. Inuit are insisting that they be represented in all domestic and international discussions, such as the opening of the Northwest Passage.

As you can see, Inuit observations and adaptations to climate change are not new.

Inuit have played a key role in recognizing the significance of these impacts and have been active partners in national and international efforts to understand climate change, mitigate its impacts, and to advocate for policies and actions for adaptation in a changing arctic.

Inuit have consistently issued calls to global leaders for climate action at annual conferences of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, contributed their knowledge to the first Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and highlighted their adaptation needs in Canada’s first national climate change assessment more than 10 years ago.

Inuit have sought out meaningful partnerships as a foundation for the meaningful inclusion of Inuit in the development of national and international policy and action.

However, while working to adapt and build resiliency in the face of climate change impacts, Inuit have also found it necessary to take on the burden of  a decidedly “David and Goliath” style communications struggle to reverse the impacts of southern opinion and perceptions of the arctic on their way of life, identity, social and economic systems.

With the arctic now a lightning rod or icon for the choices humanity is facing on a vast swath of issues connected to climate change, it is incumbent on me to unravel for you the climate change bind for Inuit when the arctic is used as a platform to draw attention to urgent calls for global action, and the profound impacts these campaigns have had, and will have, on the very people who are key to building a sustainable arctic.

Many of you will be familiar with animal rights campaigns that pre-dated global climate change discussions. These attacks on hunting activities are not new to Inuit. Cartoonist Ben Wicks cleverly depicted the impact of campaigns to end the seal hunt on Inuit more than 30 years ago.

You need to remember that while the world may be worried about oil and gas development in the Arctic and the impact by oil companies – it was organizations such as Greenpeace who impacted us negatively and we still recall this.

And cartoon satirist Aislin, picked up on Inuit frustration with the 2009 seal ban that would ignore or deny the connections between Inuit subsistence hunts and the market economy. Frustrations that persist today.

More extreme arctic campaigning vilifies Inuit rights to self-determination by unfairly criticizing or undermining our cooperative partnership in wildlife and resource management, refusing to acknowledge the Inuit subsistence activities are tied to market economies, or outright condemning a hunting way of life.

We must move beyond extremes of interest and imagery of the arctic and arctic climate change ranging from the potential for an arctic resource extraction boom to a race to save of one of the world’s last remote wild places.

A dialogue that brings attention to the impacts Inuit are facing as well as Inuit governance of efforts to adapt and build resilient and sustainable communities in the face of these impacts is sorely needed.

We must not forget that the demand for arctic oil and gas is driven almost entirely by non-arctic consumerism. It is the support of the development of affordable clean energy that will stem that demand.

In many ways, Inuit and the Arctic carry the burden of public opinion and perceptions of profound conservation, sustainable development and human development policy debates.

As I emphasize repeatedly in many forums, the Arctic is not so much a last frontier or a last wilderness, it is our home, our only home. This is the understanding upon which conversations on the stewardship and governance of the arctic and arctic climate change mitigation and adaptation must start.

Inuit leaders across the circumpolar Arctic created and signed off on a comprehensive ‘Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resource Development Principles’ in 2011emphasizing that Inuit are the stewards of our own Arctic homeland. We are the negotiators of what takes place in our own back yards.

I have emphasized that while Inuit are not anti-development because like everyone else we do need and want employment, income security, training, education, improved health, better housing, and other benefits and opportunities for our communities and families which are severely lacking – we will not support development at all costs. This includes the costs to our environment and wildlife that are the foundation of our cultural, social, and economic well-being and will continue to be into the future.

The title of this event – The Unravelling of the Arctic – jumped out at me as one of many well-intended but powerful phrases that can have profound impacts on Inuit.

While the phrase is understandably designed to attract attention, it also feeds into the communications burden for Inuit that I hope I have ‘unravelled’ through my presentation.

The scope and impact of the veritable ocean that the opinions and perspectives of a southern public that knows little about the arctic can have on Inuit and the arctic are potentially devastating.

The impact of a southern public that absorbs this kind of metaphor, can unintentionally confirm and build on misinformed messaging they hear on a consistent basis. If there is an assumption that the arctic is falling apart, one can misconstrue that Inuit are being irresponsible by hunting iconic animals that must be on the brink of extinction and that it is unconscionable to contemplate any kind of industrial activity in the arctic in order to save the world’s last “pristine wilderness.”

This is the very dilemma, or “bind,” that arctic and climate change campaigns can create for Inuit. It’s like being caught in a Catch 22. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Together, with well-informed and engaged partners, I hope we can work together toward actions that lead to thriving Inuit communities and a sustainable arctic homeland.