Eastern Arctic Ocean Agreement

Inuit people and the federal government have signed a deal that will see the Inuit use their traditional knowledge to develop a marine-management plan covering more than 380,000 square kilometers of coastal waters on the far eastern end of the Northwest Passage. The plan comes as climate change and the decline of Arctic sea ice are opening the passage to an increasing amount of ship traffic.

(Transcript of Lawrence Gunther’s bi-weekly 12-minute segment on Live from Studio 5 broadcast over AMI TV and Audio across Canada)

Q. Welcome back Lawrence, what does the Plan intend to accomplish?

A. In addition to recognizing the Inuit’s traditional rights to their coastal environment, the Plan will govern shipping, resource extraction, water quality, species management, conservation of historical sites and other matters of importance to the Inuit such as tourism, fishing and hunting.

Q. It seems comprehensive, but what does it add up to?

A. For one, the Plan represents the first Indigenous protected area in Canada and recognizes Indigenous people as the custodians of their environment. More than that though, it says that this section of Arctic Ocean, now free of ice for extended periods of time, is going to be subject to vastly different pressures than it has for the past 10,000 years. The Inuit now have a guarantee to be at the table when deciding just how this newly unveiled open water will be utilized.

Q. When did disputes over who has responsibility for the Arctic Ocean first arise?

A. It’s estimated that the Inuit arrived in the Arctic about 14,000 years ago. Far more recently, explorers from Europe began arriving first to harvest whales about 500 years ago, and later to find the north-west passage to the Orient, and to lay claim to the territory for their financial backers back in Europe. It culminated with the Franklyn expedition in the mid 1800’s. The Inuit have always considered themselves as people of the ocean.

Q. Why is it an important step and why now?

A. The government made a commitment to zone significant percentage of Canada’s coastal waters as marine protected areas, and this Plan certainly helps. Also, the more representation and documentation you can demonstrate regarding cultural and legal ownership of these disputed waters, helps Canada to put forward a strong claim with its international competitors. The territory covered under this plan extends half way to Greenland.