By Karen Kelly

“Please listen carefully to our message.”

Such was the entreaty of Lisa Qiluqqi Koperqualuk, the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), which advocates for the Inuit community on the world stage.

Koperqualuk delivered the Katherine Graham Lecture for the Faculty of Public and Global Affairs on June 13, 2023. She described how the Inuit, who occupy the circumpolar region in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Chukotka (Russia), are impacted by environmental and world events.

Katherine Minich and Lisa Qiluqqi Koperqualuk

SPPA Lecturer Katherine Minich and ICC President Lisa Qiluqqi Koperqualuk.

“Global policies and actions on climate change, biodiversity, marine conservation, shipping and defence implicate community well-being,” explained Koperqualuk, who represents the Inuit at international meetings on climate change, governance and industry. “The actions of Russia in the Ukraine [have affected] Inuit: from our governance at the Arctic Council, to heightened Arctic security concerns, to an absence of communications with our Inuit family in Chukotka.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a cessation of all official contact with Russia in international groups such as the ICC. But Koperqualuk says members of the group have maintained informal contact with the Chukotka Inuit in Russia.

“We are concerned about what’s happening to the Russian Inuit community. Even though national allegiances can be different, we will always treat them as family,” said Koperqualuk.

She emphasized that the peoples of the circumpolar region are facing an environmental emergency. It’s not only the rapid warming due to climate change, but the resultant shipping activity, as well as the effects of plastic pollution, on wildlife.

“Ninety per cent of narwhales and bowhead whales live in the Arctic waters and noise has a significant impact on them,” explained Koperqualuk, who cited one community that counted 73 ships passing through narwhale territory in one season. The narwhales were dislocated. “The ecosystem is tied to our culture, spiritual life and survival. We have an extraordinary relationship with marine mammals.”

Koperqualuk is proud that the ICC now has observer status at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which oversees shipping. But she recognizes that changing the behaviour of industrial giants is a David and Goliath proposition. She hopes her simple message will resonate.

“We simply want an Arctic that is peaceful and environmentally safe. If you save the Arctic, you save the planet.”