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Inuit and the Ice Blue Economy

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This article originally appeared in The Circle 01.18. Find back issues here.

The World Bank defines the Blue Economy as “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health”. OKALIK EEGEESIAK suggests for Inuit, the term Ice Blue Economy would be more appropriate.

INUIT ARE marine coastal people. The sea ice and the Arctic Ocean define our culture, food, transportation, language, well-being and livelihoods. All of these depend on sea ice, the floe edge and increasingly, the open ocean.

Most of our communities are located on the coast or beside main waterways for direct and easy access to the sea. The Arctic marine environment nourishes our body, mind and soul. It is our food security. It keeps us strong and has sustained us for thousands of years. The Arctic Ocean is irreplaceable to us which is why Inuit have been using it sustainably and responsibly for millennia.

This is a critical time of change in the Arctic. It is imperative that Inuit be involved in Ice Blue Economy discussions. These decisions will shape the future of Arctic shipping, small crafts, commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration, tourism and its peoples.

Inuit have always pursued innovation, partnerships and processes to drive economic development, prosperity and social equity in our communities. Much of this is related to marine activities.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council is an international organization with official United Nations status. We are a Permanent Participant at the Arctic Council giving voice to the 160,000 Inuit living in Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Chukotka – four very different political entities. Inuit may have a relatively small population in a global sense, but our homelands are vast and our collective voice strong through one language and one culture. We occupy and use a great part of the circumpolar world.

Will Inuit benefit from a changing Arctic and the Ice Blue Economy? Will we have the skills to live with and through the challenges ahead?

In 2017 ICC held the Circumpolar Inuit Economic Summit to explore potential collaborations among Inuit businesses and share experiences. A significant outcome was the establishment of a task force to create an International Inuit Business Council for business cooperation and development for Inuit at the local, national and international level.

Economic development can mean different things to different Arctic countries, regions and even individual communities within Inuit regions. One thing is certain: economic development done right means equity. It means long-term sustainability for our communities, brighter futures for our youth and the opportunity to break the cycles of poverty that plague our communities. It means economic development is not done for the peoples of the Arctic, but by them. We must pursue economic development that considers social equity to be as important as, or more important than, shareholder and stock value. We must create economic development opportunities that build cultural sustainability and community wellness rather than compete with them.

Economic solutions can address immediate challenges such as food insecurity, social development and climate change if they are approached through a new lens led by, and in partnership with, Inuit. A healthier, educated, selfdetermined and skilled labour force along with a robust tax base in the Arctic will create cost efficiencies for industry, governments and Inuit.

Innovative, successful Ice Blue Economies include fisheries, renewable energy, tourism, shipping and mining. Inuit-led success stories are only made possible through multi-lateral partnerships between the private sector, government and communities.

Inuit have addressed the Ice Blue Economy and the future of the marine region through innovative stewardship planning. In 2017 ICC released the Pikialasorsuaq Commission report proposing a vison of the Northwater – the marine region between Canada and Greenland. The Commission made three recommendations after listening to the communities that use the Pikialasorsuaq:

  • reinstate free movement for Inuit across the Pikialasorsuaq;
  • establish an Inuit Management Authority; and
  • create an Inuit-led monitoring regime.

This unique and highly sensitive marine region is central to the biological integrity of the central Arctic ecosystem and the cultural integrity of Inuit in Canada and Greenland. Inuit wish to be the stewards of it. To that end, in 2017 the ICC was part of the Canadian delegation negotiating the Central Arctic Commercial fishing moratorium. This was precedent setting for its precautionary principle, and its management and monitoring plan for commercial fisheries.

As Inuit, we don’t have a choice as to whether we are part of the “Ice Economy” or the “Blue Economy”. We are the Blue Economy.

OKALIK EEGEESIAK is chair of the International Inuit Circumpolar Council.

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