Inuit saw the summer's second environmental win Aug. 14 with the announcement in Pond Inlet of the final boundary of the national marine conservation area Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound).
"Today is an important day for Inuit because of the profound significance of Tallurutiup Imanga to our communities," said Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) president P.J. Akeeagok.
"This area is the cultural heart of the region; these waters thriving with marine life have supported the lives of Inuit since time immemorial. For almost five decades, Inuit have strived to ensure these incredible resources continue to provide for our culture, our traditional way of life and our survival. Through the establishment of the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, Inuit in this region will continue to benefit from this marine area and grow and prosper into the future."
The idea of protecting the area dates back to the 1970s, and officials spoke of the years of collaboration and collective efforts between Inuit and territorial and federal governments required to arrive at this day. But the final turning point came when Shell Canada gave up 30 offshore exploration permits on the east side of the area to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which were then passed on to the federal government.
During a briefing, prior to the official announcement and signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU), various officials offered details.
The MoU sets the boundaries for a national marine conservation area of approximately 109,000 square km, about twice the size of Nova Scotia.
"Which makes it Canada's largest protected area," said acting manager of marine area establishment with Parks Canada Francine Mercier.
Mercier also noted the win for the federal government, as protecting the area is a critical step in delivering on its commitment to expand its system of protected areas – five per cent of its marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020. Tallurutiup Imanga contributes about two per cent.
Qikiqtani Inuit Association president P.J. Akeeagok, Minister of Environment for the Government of Nunavut Joe Savikataaq and Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna together signed the MoU.
The next steps are the simultaneous negotiations and development of an Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement and a management plan.
QIA director of major projects Stephen Williamson Bathory, who – with "Father of Nunavut" John Amogoalik – sat on the steering committee established in 2009 to determine the feasibility of establishing a national marine conservation area had three messages.
First, the area should be referred to as Tallurutiup Imanga.
"It is of the utmost importance that we embrace this momentous occasion using the proper place name, a true Canadian name," said Williamson Bathory.
Second, the existence of the conservation area would not be possible without Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.
Beginning in 2009, QIA, in partnership with National Archives Canada, undertook to digitize the world's most comprehensive Indigenous knowledge study ever undertaken. The information from that project and the scientific information from the feasibility study were combined to create the boundary announced in Pond Inlet.
photo courtesy Parks Canada
'It's up to us to find the balance'
Third, Williamson Bathory spoke of the purpose of the Tallurutiup Imanga Marine Protected Area.
"To blend conservation area objectives with the active use of the region," he said.
"Sitting here today in the Parks Canada office, we're gazing upon the shores of Eclipse Sound, and there's an abundance of activity. Inuit are presently packing their boats in pursuit of narwhal, seal and fish and other country food.
"The C3 vessel has arrived … Hundreds of passengers are presently being brought to join in today's celebration here in Mittimatalik. At the same time, we can see chartered ships (hauling) iron ore from the Mary River project. This is one of the richest iron ore deposits on the planet and is located on Inuit-owned land.
"Each ship carrying ore represents a royalty payment the QIA will direct into its legacy fund. Inuit of the region have decided to invest these funds from mineral development to support the development and delivery of social programs throughout the region."
Williamson Bathory, and Akeeagok later at the official announcement, stressed the balance of traditional Inuit requirements and modern Inuit requirements, "where Inuit are seeking investments in their future."
The final negotiation of the Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement is expected to be begin this fall and completed by March 2019.
In the past, negotiating IIBAs has generally meant dealing with one government department with one mandate, but this one is broader, said Williamson Bathory.
"QIA doesn't necessarily have a wish list immediately. We've been focused on having the boundary confirmed.
"To give you an example of the early thinking already discussed at the steering committee table, from QIA's perspective, obviously a marine conservation area should facilitate an ongoing and expanded use of those waters. So we're thinking about things such as small craft harbours, other kinds of transportation infrastructure, and marine equipment and supplies that promote a permanent Inuit presence in the monitoring and management of this region."
Speaking for the federal government, McKenna said, "We are creating a buffer against the threats of climate change, and protecting against the stressors of human encroachment. We are implementing a sensible and integrated plan that will sustain biodiversity and sustain traditional ways of life."
Savikataaq celebrated the Inuit societal value avatittinnik kamatsiarniq, to respect and care for the land, animals, and the environment.
"As the stewards of our resources, it is up to us to find the balance between responsibly developing our resources and protecting and sustaining the land and the life it supports," he said.
photo courtesy Parks Canada
photo courtesy Parks Canada