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U.N. Agency to Hear from Arctic Indigenous Leaders

Northern Sea Route

A panel of representatives from Arctic indigenous communities will address the International Maritime Organization in London on Wednesday afternoon. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a United Nations specialized agency that regulates shipping worldwide. This may be the first time that Arctic indigenous leaders have appeared in front of the IMO.

One of the organizers of this session is Kevin Harun. Harun is the Arctic Program Director at an environmental organization called Pacific Environment. Since Pacific Environment acts as a consultant for the IMO, Harun has appeared before the IMO in the past.

“And what really struck me during all the debates from the 170 countries that come here to this U.N. body,” said Harun, “is that there wasn’t one indigenous voice represented here. And when we brought up the issue of food security, I remember saying to the delegation, ‘Did you know that in parts of the Arctic, that people get upwards of 70, 80, 90% of their food intake out of Arctic marine waters?’ And I felt like people looked at me like I was from another planet.”

The six panelists come from Arctic communities across Alaska, Canada, and Russia. One panelist is Austin Ahmasuk, a marine advocate at Kawerak, Inc. He plans to speak to the IMO about protecting subsistence practices as the climate changes.

“Food security,” said Ahmasuk. “The foods that we hunt, the animals that we hunt, are very important to our communities. And because it’s changing so rapidly, it is my hope that I can add some perspective to this committee.”

But Ahmasuk’s greatest goal for the session is to ensure that there will be many more sessions like it.

“If the invite to IMO discussions were to involve regular communication and dialogue with Arctic indigenous communities,” he said, “that would be outstanding.”

Ahmasuk does not expect any policy changes to come out of this session but hopes to continue collaborating with the IMO in the future.