Rapid changes in climate, environment and sea ice conditions combined with a heightened interest from the environmental, scientific and business communities has ignited the Inuit’s drive to establish a framework for managing the Pikialasorsuaq area. Kuupik Vandersee Kleist shares his perspective as a member of The Pikialasorsuaq Commission. This article originally appeared in The Circle 02.16.
The North Water Polynya is called different names in different areas populated by Inuit, only serving to illustrate its cultural importance through millennia. In Greenland, it is called “Pikialasorsuaq” or “The Great Upwelling”.
A polynya is an area of open water surrounded by sea ice. Pikialasorsuaq is the largest polynya in the Northern Hemisphere and the most biologically productive ecosystem north of the Arctic Circle. It lies in northern Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island near Smith Sound and Nares Strait. It is an important marine area for Inuit and the species upon which high Arctic communities rely.
This is also an area vulnerable to climate change. Inuit in the region have expressed a desire to explore locallydriven management options in advance of increased shipping, tourism, fishing, and non-renewable resource exploration/ development. The Pikialasorsuaq Commission’s mandate will be to listen to Inuit community members and knowledge holders who use and depend on this region for their vision of the North Water’s future use and cooperation. In 2013 the Inuit Circumpolar Council arranged a workshop on Pikialasorsuaq. “Bridging the Bay” in Nuuk, Greenland included hunters and fishermen from Mittimatalik/Pond Inlet, Aujuittoq/Grise Fiord and Ippiarjuk/ Arctic Bay in Nunavut, and Kullorsuaq and Qaanaaq in Greenland, as well as researchers from both countries. One of the essential findings at the seminar was that the ice bridge situated north of Pikialasorsuaq played a very important role in the regular contact between Inuit from Greenland and Northern Canada. The workshop concluded with a strong consensus to explore joint strategies for safeguarding and monitoring the health of this region for future generations.
There was also agreement to establish a commission “to consult with communities and communicate possibilities for future use and conservation of the area”.
The Pikialasorsuaq Commission held initial community hearings in Aujuittoq (Grise Fiord) and Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), Nunavut. The hearings spanned 5 days in the two communities with additional participation from community members from Kangirtturaapik (Clyde River), Ippiarjuk (Arctic Bay) and Qaussuitturq (Resolute Bay).
The overall purpose of the consultations is to describe and document the importance of the area for Inuit and other residents in communities and areas adjacent to Pikialasorsuaq and how the riches of Pikialasorsuaq are being exploited. The Pikialasorsuaq Commission is interested in all kinds of information on how the area is used and how to strike a balance between human interests and protecting Pikialasorsuaq to secure and protect it for future generations.
The Commission will address a broad range of factors which could potentially influence the nature of Pikialasorsuaq. These include: scientific biological analysis; changes in ice conditions; changes in migration patterns; shipping; oil and gas exploration; hunting; commercial fishing and any other foreseeable activity. It will also look at the judicial and legal frameworks currently regulating the area. Both Nunavut and Greenland have interests in the area. But Canada and Denmark – as sovereign states – also have regulatory powers and geopolitical interests which have to be addressed by the Commission.
The priority of the Commission is to build its report and formulate its recommendations based on the outcomes of the community consultations. This will include hearing from the communities adjacent to Pikialasorsuaq before attempting to develop any specific model for potential future management. The ultimate goal must be to place decisions in the hands of the people actually living in the area. The Commission heads to Greenland in August for the next phase of hearings in communities connected with Pikialasorsuaq. Following these hearings, the Commission will bring its findings and recommendations back to the involved communities before a final report is released to the public and to decision makers in the fall of 2016. But community members have expressed a clear desire to work together and be fully involved in management decisions with their Greenlandic neighbours. We are one people with a shared history. Pikialasorsuaq is our common heritage and we will work together for our shared future.
Kupik Vandersee Kleist is a member of The Pikialasorsuaq Commission.