Aqqaluk Lynge's speech at AFN Convention 2009
Inuit Circumpolar Council Report
to the Annual AFN Confention
President, ICC Greenland
22 October 2009
It is a great honour to be here at the 2009 AFN Convention and to be asked to report on the exciting events that have taken place in Greenland in the past year.
I would like to thank, once again, Julie Kitka for her kind support of ICC’s goals and objectives. And I would like to thank each and everyone here for their support of Inuit.
On 21 June 2009, a very important and historic milestone of Greenland’s path towards self-government took place. 21 June 2009 is the day when the Danish Queen came to Greenland to deliver an important document. This docuemnt was signed and thus began a new journey in its relationship with Denmark, our former colonizer. For 4 years a self-government commission made up of members from Greenland and Denmark worked on a self-rule agreement. That agreement was put before a referendum of all Greenlanders in November 2008 and passed with a 76% yes vote. Because of that yes vote, Greenlanders now exercise self rule.
Under the Self-Government Agreement, Denmark cedes control to Greenland over all aspects of government except for military and foreign affairs. As has already been the case, Denmark will invite representation from the Greenlandic government at international meetings and negotiations whenever possible.
What is the role of ICC in this new Greenland? It is important to note that the Government of Greenland is not an “ethnic” government. Although most Greenlanders are Inuit, not all Greenlanders are Inuit. Greenland Inuit have the rights of Greenlanders, who are now recognized as a “people” under international law. We also have the rights of Danes, because we are also Danish citizens. But as Inuit we have the particular rights of indigenous peoples as well. It is through our rights as indigenous peoples that Inuit have a particular voice that is not part of the self government agreement with Denmark. Therefore, it remains very important for ICC Greenland to speak on behalf of Inuit specifically.
Even though the official titles of Greenland’s new government changed on 21 June 2009, the new government does not have any additional powers regarding international matters than it did before the 21st of June. Danish law limits what the Danish self rule area governments can do on international matters. Because of these limitations, ICC Greenland will be a very important “tool” for the self rule government. ICC Greenland will continue to have a very strong voice.
What does this new Self-Government Agreement mean for the indigenous character and indigenous reality of Greenland? This is something that, in my opinion, will need some clarity as we move towards a more sovereign Greenland. While I voted an enthusiastic “yes” to the new Greenland, and while I was an active member of the Greenland-Denmark Commission on Self-rule for two years, I also see some challenges as we move forward. It is my hope that the new Greenland Home Rule government will be wise as it deals with the indigenous reality of Greenland. The Inuit Circumpolar Council pledges its full support to those leaders that will need to deal with this aspect of the new Greenland.
In my view, the most important responsibility of Inuit is to ensure that we take the best possible care of our natural environment as we gain increased autonomy and as our natural resources become enormous economic assets.
Some fear is that while we are entering a new economic era in Greenland, it may not necessarily be a better era. While I am enthusiastic about our future, I agree with some of those that articulate this fear. My personal concern is that we must be sure that we do not pretend to be front-door environmentalists, proudly showing the world our pristine fjords and beautiful glaciers, while becoming back-door developers, mining uranium, for example, in spite of the negative effects of uranium mining on the environment, human health and the global arms race. An additional concern for me is that Greenlanders might be so blinded by the positive aspects of resource development that they will forget about its negative effects.
It is not a question of whether uranium mining or any other resource development is good or bad. It’s a question of whether we’re telling Greenlanders, ourselves in a sense, one thing and mining companies another. I believe two different stories could easily be told, as is often the case in other countries where mineral wealth is found.
Greenland is a place blessed with a wealth of natural resources: minerals and hydrocarbons; the world’s largest fresh water reserve; an immense potential for inexpensive, clean energy production from hydropower; sites for deep sea harbour development; and spectacular scenery. The temptation to develop these resources without proper protection of local and global environments will be huge.
But we absolutely must be transparent and accountable. There must be time for reflection and discussion. We must patiently develop good legislation and inform ourselves about both the opportunities and dangers posed by resource development. When I'm lying awake at night, I pray we don't find oil in Greenland until we have a plan -- one that includes the world's best environmental impact assessment process: full consultation; social, economic and environmental impacts; and what the UN calls free, prior, and informed consent.
As mentioned by ICC Chair Jimmy Stotts a few minutes ago, the 2010 ICC General Assembly will be held in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland, from 28 June to 2 July 2010. Similar to these AFN conventions, the ICC General Assembly is a time for circumpolar Inuit to gather together for celebration and feasting, as well as conducting important meetings. Because we only meet this way every four years, the General Assembly is also the place where we elect a new ICC Chair and the presidents and vice-presidents of ICC Chukotka, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland.
ICC Greenland is extremely honoured that Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark has agreed to be the patron of the General Assembly 2010. As well, the Premier of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist, and the mayor of Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq, Asii Chemnitz Narup, will join me in hosting the Assembly.
You are all invited!