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Lynge talks future of Inuit people

Article from The Dartmouth:

"By Stephanie Mc Feeters, The Dartmouth Staff

Published on Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Greenlandic Inuit welcome the possibility of economic opportunity that comes with the growing international interest in regional oil and mineral resources but worry about the effect it may have on their environment and traditional lifestyle, Aqqaluk Lynge, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said in a lecture to a packed Filene Auditorium Tuesday afternoon.

Greenland has one of the most extensive green energy programs in the world, with over 60 percent of its electricity coming from hydropower, he said. At the same time, despite the environmentally-friendly nature of Greenland’s energy programs, the potential influx of oil and mineral resource corporations poses a threat to the nation’s environment. Furthermore, the possible disappearance of sea ice could drastically change the composition of the circumpolar region by introducing new trade routes and more investment, he said.

“Traditionally, we care about the environment because we live off the land,” he said, adding that the Inuit are the “guardians of the Arctic.”

The environment is “silently changing,” and Inuit are facing a conflicting desire between combating climate change and embracing the potential for economic growth through foreign investment, Lynge said in an interview with The Dartmouth following his lecture.

The Inuit are skeptical about multi-national interest in their natural resources, such as the introduction of large-scale mining operations, and the potential for social, economic and environmental effects on Greenland, Lynge said. The establishment of the ICC in 1977 was fundamental in developing an Inuit voice in regional circumpolar affairs, Lynge said.

The United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ratified in 2007 partly due to the ICC’s advocacy, is one of its most important contributions to global awareness of indigenous issues, he said. Although the rights it promotes are “not new,” it is an important step in their recognition.

The Declaration states that indigenous people must provide “free, prior and informed consent” for any development, such as mining or industrialization, that takes place on indigenous land, he said.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development,” according to Article 23 of the Declaration.

Lynge said that the Inuit deserve a role in the decision-making process because they will be the ones living with the effects of development. Although excited by the prospect of new employment venues, Greenlanders worry that they may be limited to working as “drivers of machinery or janitors,” he said.

“Look at Nigeria or Kazakhstan,” he said. “Where’s the democracy? Where’s the sound environmental policy?”

The Arctic Council, which is composed of member states, regional organizations and advocacy groups, is another important tool of the Inuit and other Arctic peoples, he said.

“I don’t know of any other organization that includes the people of the North that way,” he said in reference to the Council.

Lynge encouraged the Inuit to consider more than just the economic opportunities of oil and mineral extraction.

Ross Virginia, director of the Dartmouth Institute for Arctic Studies, described Lynge as “a leading voice for Inuit” and an internationally-recognized Greenlandic leader. Lynge has spent his career fighting for the rights of indigenous people and promoting the role of the Inuit in the development of the Arctic, according to Virginia.

Lynge was effective in communicating the “tension between development and preservation” currently facing Greenland, Virginia said.

Dartmouth’s relationship with Greenland is “really unique for an American university and puts us at the forefront of the study of climate change,” Kenneth Yalowitz, former director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding, said.

Nicole Kanayurak ’13, who is herself an Alaskan Inuit, commended ICC’s role as tool for communication between Inuit people in different countries.

“We live in a modern world — up North it’s modern, and so we have balancing issues,” she said.

The lecture — titled “Inuit in the Changing Arctic: A Bright New Future or a Fight for Survival?” — was sponsored by the Dickey Center and the Tucker Foundation."