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Nadine C. Fabbi is Associate Director of the Canadian Studies Center in the Henry M. Jackson School of
International Studies at the University of Washington.
Inuit Political Engagement in the Arctic
Nadine C. Fabbi
The nation-state has typically been employed as the primary unit for political analysis in conventional international
relations theory. However, since the end of the Cold War, transnational issues such as climate change along with a
growing number of multinational corporations and international organizations are challenging the limits of that
analytical model. This is especially true in the Arctic where indigenous organizations have reframed the region as a
distinct territory that transcends national political boundaries. In Canada, the Inuit have remapped the Arctic along
cultural lines in an effort to ensure all Inuit benefit from future policy implementation. At the international level, the
Inuit are promoting a concept of the Arctic based on cultural cohesion and shared challenges, in part to gain an
enhanced voice in international affairs. The Inuit are also utilizing customary law to ensure their rights as a people will
be upheld. What is occurring in the Arctic is an unparalleled level of indigenous political engagement. The Inuit are
“remapping” the Arctic region and shaping domestic and international policy with implications for the circumpolar
world and beyond. This paper explores the unique nature of Inuit political engagement in the Arctic via spatial and
policy analysis, specifically addressing how the Inuit are reframing political space to create more appropriate “maps” for
policy implementation and for the successful application of international customary law.
“The inextricable linkages between issues of sovereignty and sovereign rights in the
Arctic and Inuit self-determination and other rights require states to accept the presence
and role of Inuit as partners in the conduct of international relations in the Arctic.”
A Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignty in the Arctic (Article 3.3)
As a result of global warming, the Arctic is now a key focus for the eight Arctic nation-states –
Canada, Russia, Denmark (Greenland), the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland – as
well as many non-Arctic states. In fact, some scholars would argue that since the Cold War the Arctic
has become “the center of world politics” (Heininen & Southcott, 2010: 4). By 2011, each of the
Arctic nations had released an Arctic or northern dimensions of its foreign policy clearly illustrating