No PAME No Gain for Indigenous Groups

World Plicy Blog uploaded an article titled, “No PAME No Gain for Indigenous Groups.” The article reads in part as follows;

“We all know the Arctic is melting. What is not clear is whether indigenous rights are disappearing alongside it. The retreating ice has attracted interest as new shipping routes and fishing areas become more accessible, and the potential for discovering and extracting from natural resource reserves increases. As attention is drawn to economic opportunities, environmentalists are pushing to protect marine ecosystems from further harm. But as these interests converge in the Arctic, the role of indigenous groups has become muddled and their voices subdued. An open discussion with all stakeholders is required to form sustainable solutions, and the Protection of Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group of the Arctic Council is designed for that purpose.

A comparison of two recent declarations for protected areas in the Beaufort Sea provides some insight into securing a role for Arctic indigenous voices in conservation policy. In November 2016, the Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam, which covers nearly 925 square miles of critical habitat for polar bears, beluga whales, Arctic char, seals, and various birds just off the coast of the Parry Peninsula, was designated as Canada’s largest marine protected area. The process began in 2009 and gained speed in 2011 when Fisheries and Oceans Canada initiated a discussion with the indigenous Inuvialuit to collect traditional knowledge of the ecosystem. Last June, a 30-day window for public consultation regarding the proposed designation was initiated. The process established a critical marine protection area and ensured that future economic development would not be hindered by unnecessary restrictions. As Paul Crowley of the World Wildlife Fund-Canada’s Arctic Program stated, ‘This designation is an example of how governments and communities can work collaboratively, using both science and traditional knowledge to define meaningful boundaries and protections’. Together these sources of knowledge identify the habitats that must be protected in order to both preserve marine species and allow access for subsistence hunting and supply vessels in parts of the region.

Then, in one of his last actions as U.S. president, Barack Obama joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in declaring over 1 million square miles in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas permanently off-limits for oil and gas exploration. The move was celebrated by environmentalists, who viewed it as a sign of North American leadership in preserving the Arctic. But while Trudeau and Obama should be credited for introducing a policy to combat climate change, the surprise announcement frustrated stakeholders in both governments, members of the private sector, and indigenous groups. James Stotts, head of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), stated in the organization’s December newsletter, ‘[What] bothers us most is the U.S. hit-or-miss approach in consulting and engaging with us on issues of concern. When it comes to ocean stewardship, the U.S. should have lived up to its stated commitment to engage with us more openly. ICC Alaska was not consulted at all’. Bob McLeod, premier of Canada’s Northern Territories, echoed this view, still fuming in March about the lack of communication from the Canadian federal government before the moratorium was enacted.”

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