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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Inuit Political Engagement in the Arctic
Rodon credit the Inuit for being one of the most effective of all indigenous peoples in challenging
nation-state conventions in international relations (Abele & Rodon, 2007: 58).
International studies have, for the most part, ignored indigenous diplomacies or indigenous
involvement in political affairs. Nevertheless, that involvement is significant. For example, at the
domestic level, the Inuit in Canada are challenging federal policy and even international law as they
engage in reframing political space. Internationally, the Inuit have recently drafted two international
declarations to assert their voice in the international dialogue on the future of the region. The Inuit
are actively remapping and renaming the Arctic and, in the case of the ICC, drafting what could be
understood as Inuit foreign policy. These examples illustrate how the Inuit are destabilizing
conventional political relations in an effort to carve out space to address their concerns.
Remapping Arctic Territory at the Domestic Level
Land claims are one way, perhaps the most common way, the Inuit have engaged in “remapping” the
Arctic region. In the last 30-plus years the four Inuit regions in Canada were settled in land claim
negotiations with the federal government – Nunavik (1975), Inuvialuit (1984), Nunavut (1993), and
Nunatsiavut (2005). The legal basis for Inuvialuit and Nunavut were identified in the study
The Inuit
Land Use and Occupancy Project
(Freeman, 1976)
commissioned by the national Inuit association, then
the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC). The ITC was formed in 1971 specifically to protect territorial
and resource rights in Canada’s Arctic. As a result of growing concern about the rising number of
resource development projects in the Arctic, the ITC requested a study by legal experts and social
scientists that would support Inuit land claims. The Government of Canada provided significant
funding for the project as part of its growing acknowledgement of aboriginal title based on land use
(e.g., hunting, fishing, etc.) and occupancy (i.e., the meaning or value placed on the land). Dozens of
researchers were involved in the project resulting in a three-volume document that relies heavily on
maps and includes oral interviews and supporting studies from government documents.
The methodology used in this project has become a model for all land claims studies since as it
emphasizes “the importance and relevance of oral evidence” (Freeman, 2011: 28).
Our Footprints are
Everywhere: Inuit Land Use and Occupancy in Labrador
(Brice-Bennett, 1977) was conducted the following
year, utilizing the same methodology and providing the legal basis for the Nunatsiavut land claim
settled in 2005. These studies were also the first step in redrawing of the map of Canada along
cultural lines. To celebrate the settlement of the last Inuit land claim, the ITK created a new map for