Inuit Land Rights, Whaling Jurisdiction, and Education

Inuit Land Rights, Whaling Jurisdiction, and Education

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Inuit Land Rights, Whaling Jurisdiction, and Education

“Common strategies are needed to confront a coming century of conflict and danger with our own imperatives for survival . . .[Common strategies are needed in] the quest for political and economic freedom with which to rebuild our own socially healthy and economically viable communities”.
- Indian Country Today, July 2002.

Today, the Inuit emerge on the modern global stage as one of many native groups claiming political sovereignty and national and international recognition of their collective rights. To be Inuit today is to be embedded in a constant, provocative political campaign against the influences of Western culture and assimilation. Indeed, in the last 40 years, the Inuit have lobbied and fought for the right to define themselves through the preservation of their traditions and customs: the Inuit fight for the right to whale, the right to control their own lands, and the autonomy to educate and raise their children as they see fit. Through grass roots organizations and skilled manipulation of our modern over-arching web of mass media, the Inuit share in “the quest for political and economic freedom” from Western concepts of the nation state, “primitive” cultural idealism, and minority marginalization. To be identified as “indigenous” in contemporary media is to be identified as a people allied in a highly sensitive internationalized struggle.

In the Native world, “all are struggling over territorial, economic, political and cultural ground with their nation-state—over self-governance issues, jurisdictional sovereignties, and issues of land tenure and land use, hunting and fishing rights” (Indian Country Today). For Inuit peoples in Canada, land and sea jurisdiction is implicit for cultural survival and preservation. The ITC’s Nunavik Naming Project manifested cultural preservation through land rights. In 1973, a study of Inuit aboriginal rights to Canadian Territories recognized the need for “the Inuit conception of land use . . . [to be] translated into Qallunaat [non Inuit people] vernacular in order to ground the new claim: “this is Inuit land” ” (Drummond 49). The Nunavik project, beginning among small committees and groups, became the mechanism that allowed for “the Inuit to be fortified with the same geographical, linguistic, and legal armaments that Quallunat use to stake their claims” (Drummond 50). In this effective grassroots movement, the Inuit claimed land ownership by creating and publicizing maps of the land they claim as their own, labeling all rivers and homesteads in the original Inuktitut, the Inuit language.

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As Nunavik addressed the “intersocietal conflict” between Inuit and the nation state of Canada, it enabled “a path of transcendence through continued intercultural alternatives geography [that] continues to emerge” (Drummond 60). Indeed, from the fruits of the Naming Project came “ the political jurisdiction that enables [Inuit] to govern themselves” in the creation of Nunavut (Murphy). Nunavut is a major triumph in the Inuit political battle for political jurisdiction made possible by the success in the Nunavik movement. Indicative of the grassroots commitment that will shape the future of the Inuit, Nunavik started small and grew into a nationally recognized land claim of the people.

However, though the Nunavut Final Agreement established a “cohesive, integrated structure for the administration and management of marine resources” (Mulrennan 93), it did not ensure that management rights would be equally distributed or maintained. Western arrogance, a form of cultural imperialism, prevents the West from understanding the Inuit traditions that could otherwise enrich our global understanding of homeostasis, ecology and sustainable living. Historically, International organizations have used erroneous information to implement blanket restrictions on animal hunting. In 1946, the International Whaling Commission forbade the harvest of the sacred bowhead whale as a result of over-harvesting by Western commercial whaling companies. Forbidding the whale hunt virtually destroyed the fabric and lifeblood of traditional Inuit society, confirming that “perhaps the single greatest threat to the sustainable use the ongoing sustainable use of whales by Inuit is posed by aggressive attempts at cultural and ideological domination by groups of people wielding influence in the industrialized western world” (Freeman 154).

As Inuit peoples possess spiritual relationships with the whales of our seas, it is chiefly in the interest of marine environments that “aborginal marine rights need to be more broadly accommodated in both state-level and international legal regimes dealing with human rights and with environmental management and protection” (Mulrennan 94). Western biologists committed to preserving whale populations and marine environments would benefit from Inuit desire to preserve the Earth’s fragile marine environment in exchanging whaling experience and knowledge through international co-management whaling policies. In the future, Inuit plan to seek and hold the support of the ICC and IWO to work for co-management whaling policies and the definite end of Artic pollution and contamination.

Though the bowhead whaling ban was lifted in 1997, the Inuit population of Greenland refuses to support any expanded jurisdiction of the ICW for fear of its ignorant administrative ideologies (Freeman). Western environmental fervor against killing whales for ethical reasons is vehement. Yet “it is doubtful if many of those who contribute to such appeals [against Inuit whaling] realize the extent of damage these animal-protection campaigns cause the very people who care most about marine mammals and who have the greatest stake in those animals’ continuing health and survival” (Freeman 157). “As a direct threat to the sustainable use of living resources by Inuit and other indigenous peoples”, the actions of the IWC prove that “cultural imperialism…has many faces” (Freeman 171).“Throughout the rest of Canada, mainstream media persist in exoticizing, romanticizing, and marginalizing Inuit people and politics” (Alia).

Cultural survival of the Inuit is also dependent upon continued education of youth, and instilling respect for the exemplary struggles of the elders and leaders in securing a hunt. “According to the [third national survey of First Nations people living on reserves] survey results, First Nations people considered education to be the key to protecting and preserving their culture, but at the same time said they felt they had limited opportunities to complete a quality education.” (Taylor). Educational services for native peoples have historically been the tools of ethnocide and assimilation by invading cultures and states. Yet “Reserve dwellers answered they felt education was the key to an increased quality of life for future generations” (Taylor).

Today, Inuit are forced to promote ecologically harmful activities, such as natural gas pipes lines and hydroelectric dam projects, to make a living in the Western world. Inuit “trappers who once used to report to environmental groups when logging companies were clear cutting forests or to the Canadian military when low-flying jets were disrupting caribou herds are no longer in a position to perform those custodial duties” because of new policies and restrictions by the nation state (Krauss 2003).

Through political activism on national and international levels, and exhaustive exercise of media technology and communications, the Inuit are laying the groundwork for a future of political autonomy, environmental accountability and cultural survival.

“Aboriginal peoples learning from each other.” Indian CountryToday. 01 July 2002.

Alia, Valerie. “Indigenous Peoples and Media Ethics in Canada.” Cultural Survival Quarterly. (1998) V.22; N.2. ProQuest, Carleton College Library Services

Drummond, Susan G. “Writing Legal Histories on Nunavik.” Aboriginal Autonomy and Development in Northern Quebec and Labrador. Scott, Colin H. Vancouver: UBC, 2001.

Freeman, Milton M. R. Bogoslovskaya, Lyudmila. Caulfield, Richard A. Egede, Ingmar. Krupnik, Igor I. Stevenson, Marc G. Inuit Whaling and Sustainability. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira, 1998.

Kruass, Clifford. “The War Against the Fur Trade Backfires, Endangering a Way of Life.” New York Times. 4 Feb 2003, A0.

Mulrennan, Monica E., Scott, Colin H. “Aboriginal Rights and Interests in Canadian Northern Seas.” Aboriginal Autonomy and Development in Northern Quebec and Labrador. Scott, Colin H. Vancouver: UBC, 2001.

Taylor, Robert J. “A digest of First Nations news from Canada.” Indian Country Today. (2003) V.22; N.36: A2. ProQuest, Carleton College Library Research Services.
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