Indigenous leaders from across the Arctic are concluding four days of speeches, meetings, and celebrations, part of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference that takes place every four years.
Delegations from Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Alaska convened in Inuvik, Canada, a town about 3,600–roughly the same size as Nome. A hotel barge was docked to help accommodate all the visitors.
Jimmy Stotts is president of ICC’s Alaska delegation, and has been active within the organization for decades. He said Inuvik is dramatically different since the last time it hosted the conference, back in 1992.
“We met in the old school, that’s gone now, we’re meeting in the new school. A lot of new homes. So there’s been a lot of physical change. But I would also say the regional organization here, and the organizations here in town have grown, are much more professional and much more established. It seems they’re doing a much better job at taking care of themselves.”
Nome’s Vera Metcalf is another of Alaska’s leaders at ICC, and said the topics dealt with reflect the common issues impacting communities across the Arctic.
“Climate change, erosion, loss of language, health—we have a lot in common in the Arctic, Arctic indigenous peoples,” Metcalfe said by phone from Inuvik during a lunch break as the conference wound to a close.
Those topics, discussed by experts and advocates from across the world, are too broad to be solved at any one conference. The point, Stotts says, is to take advantage of an opportunity to guide leaders and policymakers for when they return home.
“One of the paradigm shifts that needs to happen is to view things from a more holistic way and realize that all these things are connected rather than compartmentalizing them and looking at resource development independent from subsistence, independent from climate change, which often happens,” explained Stotts.
At the conference’s close Thursday, the delegates voted on a new version of the Kittigaryuit declaration. That document lays out the approach indigenous groups want pursued on policies affecting topics like resource development.
“The people most directly affected—which is our people—need to be part of the process from the beginning to the end,” Stotts said of the declaration’s general guidance. “Because of the potential negative impacts of some development, our people are facing a disproportionate amount of risk in case something is to go wrong. That indicates to us that any development that happens in our territory, there should be some benefit, some positive benefit to our people.”
The conference coincides with the Circumpolar Northern Games, which continue until Sunday in Inuvik. Some of the games are identical to ones played in Alaska. Others, like goose plucking and tea-making races, are a bit more specific to the host country.
The ICC also announced that their next general assembly meeting in 2018 will be hosted in Barrow, Alaska.