Northern Public Affairs

2018 Inuit Circumpolar Council General Assembly: Remarks by incoming ICC Chair, Dalee Sambo Dorough

The following remarks were delivered by Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough on July 19, 2018 as incoming Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). The ICC General Assembly was held in Utqiaġvik, Alaska from July 16-19, 2018. The chairmanship rotates between Alaska, Canada, and Greenland every four years. The text below has been edited for publication.    

Utqiaġvik, Alaska – We need every Inuk. There are 7.6 billion people on earth. There are approximately 165,000 Inuit on the entire planet.  We need every single one of us; every woman, every man, every young person, every child, every mother, every father, every elder. We need every one of you here today and more important, all those at home. We need every future leader and every past leader. We need every Inuk across the Arctic and elsewhere. “There is nothing like being wanted or being welcomed. Being valued.”(1) Again, every Inuk is wanted. Every Inuk is welcomed. And, every Inuk is valued. Every Inuk is the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Period. Each of you in the room can play a part, immediately and at no cost to anyone by drawing attention to the ICC and our mutual aspirations. I especially welcome the remarks by our youth delegates Ruth and Quluttannguaq and all youth speakers about the need for real, concrete, ongoing financial and physical support, and we must collectively determine how to do so.

Our founding father, Eben Hopson, had the foresight to unite us as a people. He saw the value of advancing a coherent, coordinated approach to our collective action, and our united voice at the international level. In February 1983, when ICC gained NGO status at the UN, Hans Pavia Rosing as ICC’s first President, stated that, “we take this acceptance of our NGO application as recognition by the United Nations of the important role Inuit can play in promoting the objectives of the UN and in assisting the international community in developing a greater awareness of and sensitivity to the Arctic region, its environment, and its inhabitants.” (2)

To date, we have done this. We have infused the UN, the Arctic Council and other intergovernmental fora with our distinct perspectives. However, in the future we must do more and also in an inclusive and comprehensive fashion, ensure that we take the time to provide a coordinated approach to our collective action, and ensure that each of our unique regions are effectively contributing to a united voice in our overall international work.  

We must enhance collaboration, cooperation and communication between all Inuit as well as our four branch offices. Moving forward, we must consider how to gain the input of those at the local, regional and national levels to be responsive to the concerns and interests of Inuit.  Like the diversity of delegates from each of our four regions, our branch offices at the national level must be responsive to and inclusive of our diverse political, economic, social and cultural institutions and ensure that we are working to amplify domestic priorities and concerns at the international level. And, internationally, we will ensure that leadership and our four respective offices have direct, regular and substantive collaboration, cooperation and communication. Such an approach will ensure that we are more strategic, especially with the few resources that we have. Through enhanced communication, we can and will provide a more unified, coherent, coordinated and inclusive voice in favor of all Inuit.

Self-determination and self-sufficiency are crucial. In international law, the right to self-determination is regarded as the pre-requisite for the exercise and enjoyment of all human rights.  We have determined our political status – we are distinct peoples, with distinct rights that inhabit a distinct region of the world. Therefore, we must ensure that Inuit, at all levels, are not hindered or stifled in their expressions of self-determination in every realm. In this regard, we must be able to “freely pursue our economic, social and cultural development.”

The remarks of Charlie Watt in relation to erasing the imposed borders and of nationhood: such an objective conjures up a powerful state of mind and the oneness of our people. It also speaks to our extraordinary political development over the past 41 years and our present capacity, and our desire for the self-sufficiency that was a hallmark of our societies before contact. Yet, at the same time, we must be mindful of the present geopolitical and geostrategic reality of the current Arctic five nation states. There is no doubt that they take their sovereignty and self-determination seriously. We’re acutely aware of their economic and political force both at home and across the globe. We’re also acutely aware of the measure of our own economic and political force. So, the objective of a single Inuit governance institution will require careful and critical analysis in the future.      

The desire for self-determination and self-sufficiency saturates every dimension of our lives, issues both large and small, at the micro level and the macro level.

At the macro level, as external, global pressures upon our homelands begin to compound even further, we as Inuit must be prepared to address them head on through our collective voice and our right to self-determination. Rex Rock spoke of the need to make plans 10, 20 years ahead and he’s right. Yet, we have to recognize that China may have a thousand-year plan, not to mention all others that have designs for our Arctic homelands. Therefore, we must become more assertive about our status and rights to effectively safeguard what is indeed ours:  the lands, territories and resources of the Arctic. I’d like to recall Eben Hopson’s welcoming address to the 1977 conference:

Our language contains the memory of four thousand years of human survival through the conservation and good managing of our Arctic wealth…Our language contains the intricate knowledge of the ice that we have seen no others demonstrate. Without our central involvement, there can be no safe and responsible Arctic resource development.

As a maritime people reliant upon the marine environment, including the coastal seas and the Arctic Ocean, we should consider development of a comprehensive strategy that guarantees our role as primary actors in development of any initiatives related to our coastal seas and the Arctic Ocean, to the territory that we have always regarded as “our Arctic wealth”. Lene Kielsen Holm addressed the work that she has memorialized in the book The Meaning of Ice; Willie Goodwin spoke of the transit lanes through our coastal seas and the Arctic Ocean; Austin Ahmasoak spoke of the implications of heavy fuel oil use in our marine environment; each of these matters have existing and future impacts upon our food security – these are just a few dimensions that should be considered in an overall strategy concerning coastal seas and the Arctic Ocean.

I want to underscore the interrelated, interdependent and indivisible nature of human rights. We understand this, we always have. Implementation of this dimension of human rights must be exercised by all of our own institutions, whether economic, political, social or cultural. Our leaders must take the interrelated, interdependent and indivisible nature of our human rights into consideration when making decisions, large and small. Examples include the relationship between health and well-being and our systems of education; how an economic decision may impact the social and cultural life of our communities. I know that each of you can identify many other important interrelationships. The interrelated nature of our rights must also be understood by governments, corporations, environmental organizations, and all others.

The manifestation of our right to self-determination should also incorporate our own protocols, customs, practices, values and institutions. Too often, we simply duplicate the structures, procedures and substance of the settlers. Think of our highly complex, sophisticated and spiritual protocols. Our reliance upon such values and practices can and will strengthen our right to self-determination and its expressions among our own people. Significantly, it may educate all others that we interact with.

At the micro level, numerous interventions have been made about urgent social and cultural conditions. Natan Obed spoke of the need to be responsive to the “most vulnerable” among us in the context of personal security. His comments intersect with those made by Sara Olsvig regarding child sexual abuse; in addition, Rebecca Kudloo’s reference to violence against Inuit women, and the many comments concerning suicide within our communities, loss of language, and a host of other stark realities. And, most are rightly characterized as crises. These conditions also require acts of self-determination and self-sufficiency. These are conditions that we ourselves must face and address.

A footnote related to cultural issues that I didn’t get to elaborate upon in my remarks on Tuesday is the UNESCO designation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Those directly engaged in the work of Inuit language should look into this designation and consider the ways and means that ICC can capitalize upon this important International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Regarding self-sufficiency, I want to applaud this important objective; one that I wholeheartedly endorse. However, at the same time, I want to underscore the fact that our respective national governments have fiduciary obligations that can be essentially summed up as the cost of colonization. In those areas of fiduciary responsibility, we should never regard these solemn obligations as “dependency” or a “hand out”. We cannot forget those that faced and continue to face unimaginable suffering as well as the extensive lands, territories and resources taken by the states that now surround us. Therefore, we cannot let our respective governments off the hook. And, we should emphasize this fiduciary responsibility and maximize the use of the resources owed toward the restoration of the health, vitality, dignity, and cultural integrity of our people.

Herb Nakimayak made an important statement about Inuit self-determination, self-sufficiency and decision-making. In my view, this applies to every economic, social, cultural and political institution throughout Inuit Nunaat. We have always been ingenious people, creative, resourceful, imaginative. We’ve demonstrated highly sophisticated capacity and wisdom for generations and we need to reclaim that in every possible context, including within our branch offices. We should be hiring, training and maximizing the role of Inuit individuals across the board and especially in those crucial leadership positions that determine and direct the essential work of Inuit institutions, including the ICC. This objective should be a fundamental characteristic of all Inuit entities. In addition, as Marie Greene stated, we have a deep and growing pool of capable, competent, amazing, inspirational Inuit. Furthermore, this objective uplifts our own people in immeasurable ways. And, never mind that it is 2018.

In conclusion, I believe that one of the greatest honors bestowed upon an Indigenous person is the simple expression of recognition, confidence and the support of your own people. I am genuinely honored to have been selected to lead the Inuit Circumpolar Council for the next four years.  

Some years ago, I heard Ande Somby deliver a presentation while studying at UAF. In a presentation, he stated “that we have a right to the past; we have a right to the present; and we have a right to the future”. The same is true for all Indigenous peoples, including our people, the Inuit.

We have often heard our elders talk about their lives before contact with outsiders. Many have said “we were happy”. One of the most rewarding things that an Indigenous person can ever do is to make your people happy. In the next four years, I will do all that I can to make you happy. Quyanaq. Nakurmiik. Qujanarsuaq.

Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough Dorough is Inupiaq from Anchorage and Unalakleet, Alaska. She is an associate professor of political science at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dorough served as Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2014 and as Vice Chair in 2016. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law (2002) and a Master of Arts in Law & Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University (1991). 


1 Michael Connelly, The Narrows.

2 “ICC Granted UN Status: Inuit Assume New Role in World Community,” accessed July 14, 2018, http://www.ebenhopson.com/apr/March%201983/8/index.html.

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