he Inuit Sea is once again discussed in Canada and in the global community in the context of sovereignty and security and in the absence of Inuit.
Canada, the United States of America (USA) and European countries are vying for and proposing jurisdictional status of the Northwest Passage in Canada. Canada’s position is that the Northwest Passage belongs to Canada, while the USA and the European countries argue that the Northwest Passage is international waters. The current discussion of arctic sovereignty and security lies in the realm of mythology and the exclusion of Inuit with regard to the Inuit Sea discussions, both by Canada and players from abroad, is not only an immoral and shameful exercise of out-dated and discredited colonialism but also illegal in light of the contemporary developments in law.
The Northwest Passage is part of the Inuit Sea by virtue of its use and occupancy for millennia by the Inuit — a use necessary for the survival of the Inuit as a people. Copper Inuit occupied and used the sea ice and sea water in the Prince of Wales Strait for seal harvesting in the winter and for fishing, whaling, and bird hunting in the spring. These practices have existed, as the saying goes, from “time immemorial”. This knowledge comes from my mother and grandmother who passed on the stories to me; women in Inuit society are responsible for the transfer of knowledge.
The Inuit Sea is recognized now in a number of legal instruments. The Inuit Sea is documented in the Inuvialuit Final Agreement 1984, through the Land Use and Occupancy Study conducted by Peter Usher. During the course of his research he interviewed people from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, some of whom are still living in Nunakput (Our Land). Further, Canada is legally required to consult Inuit on all matters affecting Inuit, including Arctic sovereignty and security.
Within Canada, Inuit and Inuit Rights are explicitly recognized and guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, s. 35 (1), (3); these provisions explicitly recognize the land claims agreements now and in the future. The Migratory Birds Convention 1994 between Canada and the USA is the only international legally binding instrument which explicitly recognizes the guaranteed Canadian Inuit Land Claims Agreements with respect to Inuit hunting rights and the use and sale of the by-products of birds such as feathers and down for indigenous economic opportunity.
Internationally, Inuit fundamental human rights have been expressed as a result of hard work of people like Dalee Sambo and Mary Simon from the Inuit community and Madame Erica Daes’, who chaired the United Nations (UN) meetings and in the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007.
Another UN instrument that may well be drawn on in the debate is the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (1982) as it relates to the issue of sovereignty over arctic waters and ice. UNCLOS does not address use and occupancy as a way of life on the water as the UNCLOS states that it is impractical for humans to occupy the sea...This omission in its analysis is faulty given the Inuit occupation and use of the Inuit Sea, both as water and as ice.
The occupation and use of the Inuit Sea is a matter attested to by my own life. I was born in the Prince of Wales Strait in March 1954 while my parents were seal hunting. They were simply following the timeless traditions of our Inuit clan in the pursuit of daily survival. A Debate without Inuit The consequences of discussions on arctic sovereignty and security without Inuit could be wide-ranging, politically, legally and administratively. First, the lack of effective and meaningful Inuit participation in the sovereignty debate could trigger the constitutional and legal mechanisms already mentioned to resolve the issue of consultation and participation. Second, the current positions of Canada, USA and the European countries are disrespectful, to say the least, and harkens to earlier and discredited European colonial practices. Canada is required to consult and its course to date has been, and is, in violation of its agreements with Inuit which are protected under s. 35 of the Constitution Act 1982. Inuit in this case have the option of invoking the non-derogation clause of the Constitution Act 1982. As well, Inuit can have recourse to the arbitrations and court processes to resolving outstanding legal issues.
Third, the position of the USA and the European countries that the Northwest Passage be designated as international waters is either ignorant of, or an exercise of, faulty judgment with respect to Inuit participation on sovereignty and security. Inuit have Aboriginal and inherent rights to not only the Inuit Sea but also to all its resources. The impact of USA/Europe position may result in (bring about) the opposite effect for that position and could very well open the so-called international waters to many unwanted guests. The current situation affords de facto measures for the USA with the rules governed by Canada.
Inuit are suffering from a want of dialogue with Canada, even though this dialogue is constitutionally mandated. The current Canadian government is moving toward more central power in the executive structure of parliament and in regulation-making as a way of governing Canada. First Ministers meetings have become a thing of the past. This imperial form of governance is out of step with the democratic principles upon which Canada was founded, disrespectful of ordinary Canadians and the Parliament which is responsible for speaking for them. The current situation is only cloaked in the guise of democracy; it is not democracy in action. This manner of governing Canada is not working for Inuit in Canada, particularly on the issue of arctic sovereignty and security. Hush! Quiet! Canadians are not to be critical of the government of Canada. Alleged threats to funding agreements often impose the silence of the Inuit accentuating the current deep-freeze of today’s political climate.
The experience of Inuit in Canada in nation-building has been a positive one. In the span of fifty years Inuit have adapted from being a nomadic people following the age-old traditions necessary to its survival to a society completely at home with the iPhone. This period has seen the advance of the rights of Inuit, nationally and internationally. And the adaptability of Inuit is a testament to not only the mettle and character of Inuit society but also to the Inuit. My experience is that Inuit prefer negotiation over litigation in achieving Inuit goals and aspirations.
Security is more than about arms build-up. Security is about ensuring that Inuit are equal members of the human family and have the economic basis to ensure a reasonable life-style as defined by contemporary Canada.
“Kabloonaks talk a lot and we have to take care of them when we are out on the land.” Susie Tiktalik (1957), my grandmother was referring to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Ministry of Transport (MOT) personnel who were transferred to Banks Island to ensure Canada’s sovereignty over the arctic islands. Many misadventures and accidental tourists came from the outside claiming Inuit land, and Inuit seas as “theirs”. Non-Inuit academics reinforced this false notion through the doctrine of Terra Nullus — that the land and seas were vacant of human occupation. Am I not human? Were my forbearers not human? We have lived in and on, and have reaped the resources of, Inuit lands and the Inuit Sea for millennia. We lived in an organized society, with customs and traditions that had the weight of law in that society.
Security to Inuit was, and is, having food, clothing and shelter. This definition is relevant today in the context of the right to life, liberty and security of the person guaranteed to all Canadians by s. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter and the rights contained therein cannot be removed except by due process of the law. Therefore, I raise the following question: is the omission to act to guarantee elements necessary to life, such as food, housing, medicine and schooling for Inuit, a removal by Canada of this fundamental human right without due process of law? Some in authority have argued that security of food is a non-issue for the Inuit: the Inuit simply take a rifle and hunt. This argument is absurd in its simplicity and not at all based on today’s reality. The settlement of Inuit in hamlets has resulted in many people being unskilled in hunting and the ways of life on the land. And this settlement was government policy. This policy has resulted in a society which is resettled with some of the amenities of the south but also in a society devoid of the economy which sustained it.
Although resettlement occurred before the institution of the Charter and its rights, the on-going results of this government policy have robbed the Inuit of a viable economy. The government policy of residential schools too worked to this end: it ensured, as best it could, that the traditional ways would not be transferred to a new generation. It can be argued, therefore, that on-going government policy and actions are working to deprive the Inuit of a basic right to life.
Traditionally, security to Canada meant an arms build-up or militarization in a region. One cannot discuss sovereignty without security. The core issue of Canadian Arctic sovereignty is control and the core issue of Canadian Arctic security is about responding to threats. The non-Inuit views to threats to Canadian Arctic security are nebulous, multi-dimensional and evolving.
The right of Inuit to our land and seas has never been nebulous. We have used and occupied both the land and sea for our very survival as a people and for millennia. The rest of the world, if it has the courage to look beyond its colonial mentality, must know and recognize that jurisdiction over the Inuit Sea continues to lie with the Inuit who have been the stewards of the Arctic for a very long time.
Rosemarie Kuptana is a writer and former broadcaster. Ms. Kuptana headed the IBC, ITC and ICC from 1982 to 1997. In the early 1990s Ms. Kuptana along with Franklyn Griffiths conducted the groundbreaking research that led to the establishment of the Arctic Council. She spearheaded a video about climate change and has authored “No More Secrets”, a book about child sexual abuse in the Arctic, published by Pauktuutit and “What is a Canadian?”, in which 50 recipients of the Order of Canada wrote essays on what it means to be Canadian, published by McLelland & Stewart.