Aqqaluk Lynge's keynote speech at IPY 2012
Tuesday April 24, 2012
Aqqaluk Lynge, International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference
Plenary Keynote Speech
International Polar Year Conference, Montreal
From Knowledge to Action ... The Inuit Perspective
Iterluarit – tikilluarit ... good morning and welcome ... bonjour et bienvenue
Thank you for inviting me to speak today. What a pleasure it is to be here before such a distinguished audience - Indigenous peoples from many Arctic regions, natural and social scientists, engineers, health professionals, global decision makers and political leaders. You are the collective engine that will effectively move Arctic knowledge forward to Action.
The fact that we are all connected because of the International Polar Year and that each of us has a special relationship and individual connection to the Arctic or the Antarctic makes me believe that regardless of the challenges we all face - these very unique and globally important environments and peoples will not only survive but thrive - with all your help and with expanded co-operation between us.
This International Polar Year had the “human dimension” of the Arctic as a primary focus – never before had this dimension influenced the research direction of an International Polar Year. The cooperation experienced in the Polar Years has set the stage for continuing international scientific collaboration which also paves the way for several political accords and international conventions over the years.
As IPY scientists and participants at this fourth IPY, you are retrieving traditional knowledge and creating new knowledge - you are using knowledge to overcome obstacles and to create effective policy and political action that will ensure that both the Arctic and the Antarctic continue to provide important insights into global climate change, that the Arctic and the Antarctic may also continue to produce much of the world's harvested marine protein, that its beautiful environment may be protected and that its untold renewable and non-renewable resources may be used in a reasonable and respectful manner ... and of course, most importantly to me and the peoples of the Arctic; that this knowledge should be used to protect our homes and our culture.
My name is Aqqaluk Lynge; I am an Inuk from – Greenland. I was born in a small village, on the Northeast coast of Greenland – in Disko Bay – not far from where thousands of icebergs are born as they plunge into the Ilulissat Ice fjord, and battle each other in their move towards the Davis Strait and eventually to the North Atlantic Ocean.
I am a poet, a writer, a politician, a former social worker, broadcaster, a part-time hunter and a very passionate Inuk.
I am the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, or ICC. It is the international organisation that represents and unites ALL the world's Inuit. ICC was founded in 1977 by the late mayor Eben Hopson to create a united front against the encroachment of resource companies and colonial policies that were obstacles to our future as Inuit. Since 1977, we have grown into a major international non-governmental organization representing the approximately 165,000 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Chukotka and Greenland - What we in the ICC call Inuit Nunaat. Together, Inuit administer and inhabit regions that cover a vast and sparsely populated area that stretches halfway around the earth in the Arctic regions. This makes us the largest landholders and self-governing areas by indigenous peoples in the world.
The creation of ICC came out of the realization that Inuit needed to speak with a united voice on issues of common concern with regards to resource development and political actions in the Arctic. Perhaps this realization over 35 years ago is as relevant today as it was then because the principal goal of the ICC is to promote Inuit rights and interests at international, regional and national levels and to ensure that our voice is heard and listened to. But ... and this is important ... we are Not Isolationists ... we WANT to work with people from the outside, especially with scientists like yourself ... because I think in most instances we have common goals and passions.
ICC has already shown its willingness to cooperate with scientists and have played an important role in several major research projects that combine traditional Inuit Knowledge with the latest in modern science.
My first IPY experience was a policy science exchange aboard a research vessel in the Beaufort Sea. Here we saw firsthand the power and challenges of the sea ice and wind. As our ship broke free from those of us on the ice - I reflected on those Inuit who crossed the ice covered waters with dog teams and kayaks and I remembered how I learned the hard way to travel on the sea ice when as a boy I almost went through bad ice with my dog sled – but the dogs saved me. This is how our traditional knowledge has been built up through trial and error.
IPY Projects were found in some form in ALL the Inuit regions. We trust that this will continue into the future for our collective benefit.
Greenlanders sought and obtained Self-Government in 2009 and with this came new rights and new responsibilities. We are looking at ways to enhance the lives of our people and to participate in the global economy and dialogue – IPY knowledge will contribute to this. We are rich in natural resources, fish, minerals, hydro and oil and gas and we are rich in our cultural heritage and in our commitment to make life better – opportunities and challenges abound.
ICC is a permanent participant to the Arctic Council, an idea which I am happy to say was inaugurated in Canada. It is a very high-level intergovernmental forum that provides a venue for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues; in particular, issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Inuit are not the only people living in the Arctic. We share the polar region with other indigenous and non-indigenous cultures – But it is ICC who represents the indigenous Inuit in the Arctic Council, as permanent participants.
The Arctic Council is an impressive forum where the eight Arctic nations and the indigenous permanent participants chart the course for the emerging Arctic.
The movement to unite indigenous peoples throughout the circumpolar world which is based on shared concerns especially about the Arctic environment and the benefits to be derived from economic cooperation and cultural exchange, is the driver of the success of the Arctic Council. The rotating chair allows for each of the eight member states to guide the Council’s business and to reflect the issues of importance to each state. Change is always present - as the Arctic evolves so does the Arctic Council - with new states seeking observer status and many states with interests in the Arctic wanting a seat at the table. No wonder that other nations, such as China and the EU are coming knocking on the Arctic Council’s door to be admitted; for the Arctic is becoming overwhelmingly important and nations and nations groups want to have a voice.
The environmental change in the Arctic and the global consequences is a major pillar of the Arctic Council’s work.
This past May, Nuuk hosted the first Arctic Foreign Ministers meeting. Remarkably, this was the first time many of these elected political leaders were from Inuit Nunaat.
Interest in the Arctic is high and growing -- with regards to science, resources, business, and tourism. Many see this as a potential Arctic zone of conflict with competition for natural resources and transport routes and sovereignty issues fuelling national interests, but with the efforts of such partnership and cooperation as seen through the IPY and ICC, it is hard to imagine – the Arctic Council itself fosters an atmosphere of political cooperation and a platform to listen and learn – an important and often overlooked contribution to global security.
ICC also engages within the United Nations through the General Assembly and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as having United Nations ECOSOC observer status, and it is a full member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where we work with other global indigenous peoples. ICC helped negotiate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). While as a General Assembly declaration it is not a legally binding instrument under international law, the UN does describe it as establishing "an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet's 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalisation. This is an important milestone and we commend those countries who have signed onto it".
This UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues. It also "emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations". It "prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples", and it "promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development". The Inuit Circumpolar Council is proud to have played a significant role in its development and now in its implementation.
You have to understand that to us the Arctic is our home. It is not a mining company or a scientific laboratory, it is our HOME. Today, Inuit in all countries and all communities face challenges – social, economic and environmental.
In our daily life we sense the situation of the Arctic. The possible changes impact our way of life. Our culture, as Inuit, possesses a dynamic character in adapting to the environment. In our interaction with the environment we stress the importance of human, physical and mental health. It is why it is important, in the resources development discussions we include the human dimension – we must understand the development of both living and non-living resources.
ICC has therefore undertaken extensive consultations with Inuit across the Arctic and has produced two vey important documents: "The Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Arctic Sovereignty" in 2009 as well as "The Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resource Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat" (2011). The first sets out the principles that the Inuit have sovereign rights to the Arctic, as its first and longest inhabitants, and that we have to be involved in all activities and policy decisions that impact our land and our peoples. In the second declaration on resource development, all Inuit agreed that "all resource development must contribute actively and significantly to improving the Inuit living standards and social conditions, and non-renewable resource development in particular must promote economic diversification through contributions to education and other forms of social development, physical infrastructure and non-extractive industries" and that "Inuit welcome the opportunity to work in full partnership with resource developers, governments and local communities in the sustainable development of resources of Inuit Nunaat, including related policy making, to the long-lasting benefit of Inuit and with respect for baseline environmental and social responsibilities".
I might add that we also as Inuit fully welcome the opportunity, indeed, the necessity of working with scientists from around the world ... we welcome and we need the IPY research and data generated so that our decisions may be made with sound and cutting-edge knowledge. We Inuit want to co-operatively move from knowledge to action.
Will these new riches and this new knowledge – benefit the Inuit? – Time will tell. At the moment though we are adapting to the changing climate – this is real and happening now.
Many of you have been witness to the change in the Arctic - I have come to know about climate change in the Arctic and among my people in various ways. I have witnessed the effects of climate change with my own eyes right across the Arctic. I have seen Inuit villages in Alaska and Canada eroding into the sea. I have seen my cousin's hunting camp be inaccessible during five long winters due to thinning or non-existent sea ice during the coldest months of the year. I have seen homes relocated inland due to eroding shorelines, and I have also seen plans to relocate health centres, and police stations. I have seen flooding of towns due to high winds pushing ocean water further into inland bays and rivers, due to less or non-existent ice protecting the shorelines. I have seen the Greenland ice cap – the only such feature in the world – melting in areas, and have witnessed fast and heavy waterfalls flowing from the ice cap into the sea and I have seen the sadness of my people as they do not know how to cope with these changes that often robs them of their traditional livelihood and their culture.
In my capacity as the international leader of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, I am asked to visit and meet with Inuit across the Arctic on many issues. Over the past year, an increasing number of Inuit come to meet me, asking ICC and me personally to help address their concerns regarding climate change:
- They ask me increasingly to take their local concerns to the international community, as ICC is mandated to do.
- I work with them, for example, on trying to address the issue of sea ice loss and the impacts on our wildlife and our food security and mental health.
- I work with them on trying to address the challenge of the disappearance of certain fish species as well as the arrival of new species of fish in their waters that negatively affect the balanced Arctic marine ecosystem.
- I work with them, for example, in addressing the dramatic influx of ships coming to the Arctic as the shipping routes widen through the ice, and the subsequent effects of marine pollution on the Inuit environment.
- I try to convince them that there is HOPE ... Inuit have faced daunting challenges before and have adapted.
Through ICC's Permanent Participant status in the Arctic Council and our work at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, I have worked with leading scientists and policy-makers providing them with an Inuit perspective on climate change, while at the same time learning from them.
When I was Vice Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, I dealt professionally with the issue of climate change, not only in the Arctic but across indigenous communities globally. Along with the Chair of the Forum, I investigated how climate change mitigation-measures applied globally have affected indigenous peoples. In our investigation, and as outlined in our report to the Permanent Forum, we noted widespread negative impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples and other marginalized peoples. In addition, we concluded that among this widespread negative impact, the Arctic and its indigenous peoples require a special focus due to their unique and dramatic experience with climate change – we are working on this and we will work hard to ensure that the indigenous perspective is taken into consideration and our traditional local knowledge is taken into account.
ICC have spent some years in the Arctic Council and at the UN Permanent Forum to create an understanding that the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic have an intricate and intimate knowledge of the Arctic, its environment and its human aspects accumulated during several millennia, through experiences and observations for the benefit of their economic and cultural survival - A standard scientific method. That is why ICC, as a Permanent Participant, has approached the Arctic Council to acknowledge the traditional knowledge of the Arctic indigenous peoples. Our traditional economies, our technologies, our cultural expressions and our languages reveal intricacies of this knowledge which we now offer the sciences to include in their considerations as tools for the understanding of the Arctic in conjunction with the International Polar Years, now and in the future.
For years, for thousands of years, Inuit have relied on knowledge that was gained first hand by lengthy observations of the environment, wind patterns, ocean currents, animal migration patterns, weather, and flora growth. Most of this knowledge was gained by elders who gained it from their elders, who in turn gained it from their elders. This way of knowing through observation, and this way of learning through listening to elders' ancient experiences have sustained us for millennia. This way of knowing is often referred to as "traditional knowledge" and increasingly we use it in cooperation with "western science".
Together we solve many problems. Inuit men and women have known and experienced changes over time, including changing animal migration patterns, ocean currents, and weather. But only a decade ago, Inuit men and women started to come to me and to others telling us that something was radically different. The changes that they were observing were of a different order, that they did not correspond to the traditional knowledge that had been handed down to them and that they had acquired themselves through their own patient observations. This is the most chilling impact – the fear that our knowledge system will be so severely jolted by such a radical shift in the climate that the very foundation of who we are as a people may be at risk.
I have worked with various scientists on climate change matters, including renowned scholars. I have shown them Greenland and shared my traditional knowledge and from the scientists I, in return, have gained a broader understanding of what is happening from a western scientific point of view – two ways of knowing ... So while I do not have a doctorate in climatology or related fields, I believe my ongoing work with scientists has give me a unique perspective in coming to know about the effects of climate change among my people, the Inuit and that my traditional knowledge has provided a better understanding of the changes in the Arctic for the scientists.
With our collective IPY knowledge, we must ensure that it informs and leads to ACTION; we will be able to do something different in the future so that young people, young Inuit, no longer are just spectators but actors, decision makers who have full authority and are empowered and who can enjoy the benefits of the future: a strong economic and cultural base for us all.
When I was a student In Copenhagen, all too long ago, I became passionate about the possibilities for Inuit and for our beloved, Inuit Nunaat --- our Inuit Homeland --- I wrote this poem, Arctic Riches that I would like to close with today ... as the sentiments are still strong and apply now as then on the senseless effects of colonialism;
Centuries of the white man’s colonization
are nothing compared
to ten thousand years
of our own wisdom
Our land is our life
the lakes, the rivers
the ocean, the ice
the caribou and the fish
the seal and the whale ---
is part of our knowledge
insight into what is our own
But dangers threatens from every direction
There are those who dig in our earth
empty its veins
change our foundation
There are those who limit the hunt
take away the good food
that sustains us
Because cannons and war
not used by our people
you use a method
that does not, in itself,
but diminishes our strength
With slyness and flattery
it is us you are serving
But who is it that really
hides his weakness and stupidity?
Why is it always
who make mistakes
and you who are right?
You teach us
disdain for ourselves
You threaten us with extinction
But what you believe
we do not believe
What you don’t know we do know
what you know we know as well
for these are our arctic riches
As we move forward into a new Arctic – one of change and challenge but also one of Self-Government, hope, opportunities --- Inuit look forward to working in partnership and friendship to ensure the Arctic’s transformation is sustainable and remains a unique and valuable global environment – and for US in the Arctic our home.
Qujanaq --- Thank you—Merci Beaucoup