"The North is our home and our destiny." "Our North, Our Heritage." These dictums are published in Canada's Arctic policy documents and conveyed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the media. These statements have to bring comfort to Canada's Arctic people and guarantee their security. Gwich'in, Métis, and Inuvialuit have made their home North above the Arctic Circle for hundreds and thousands of years. Adaptation, progress, and development are not just words for the indigenous Arctic people; it has been their way of life. Canada's Arctic People remain a strong and resilient people.
Canada's Arctic - its three territories, to be specific - has a sparse population and a vast land mass. However, a huge portion of the land in these territories is 'settled' lands. Modern day treaties negotiated between Canada and the Aboriginal people addressed land ownership, management of resources, compensation, and self-government.
However this does not make for a settled mind. Aboriginal people are constantly addressing new issues; intergovernmental concerns such as devolution, economic development, trade and investment, sustainable development and self-sufficiency. Many factors need to be considered: the cost of development, the cost of living, the uncertainty of climate change, impacts of increased resource extraction and increased shipping routes.
The Arctic Council is the international forum where the indigenous people find some comfort in knowing that their concerns will be heard and their research questions investigated and answered. Through their meaningful participation, Arctic states are informed of the living conditions of indigenous peoples, and their participation is welcomed in the activities and research of its working groups and subsidiary bodies.
The indigenous peoples appreciate the support offered by Observers of the Arctic Council and recognize that cooperation and collaboration not only advances their work but their indigenous agenda as well. However, as new applications have been submitted, the Permanent Participants' unwavering message is that prospective Observers clearly demonstrate how their presence will enhance the role and increase the participation of the Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council. The Permanent Participants are very cautious about some applications, as it is not enough to say that Observers will be sensitive to the needs and rights of the indigenous peoples; they also need to show their track record. New Observers have to accept the Arctic Council's governance structure, as this is the only international forum that guarantees that the voice of the Arctic People gets heard.
Bridget Larocque is Executive Director of Gwich'in Council International.