The Inuvialuit are pitching a far-reaching scientific and traditional knowledge study that would help researchers better understand how Arctic ecosystems will be affected by climate change, increased shipping and oil and gas development.
"We see ourselves as part of the ecosystem, so anything that is going to affect that is going to affect us as well," said Duane Smith, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.
The IRC has sent a letter to the federal government asking it to consider funding a Regional Strategic Environment Assessment or RSEA.
Smith said an RSEA is more comprehensive than environmental assessments that focus on one project or issue.
The recent Beaufort Regional Environmental Assessment launched in 2010 targeted research at managing oil and gas development offshore. The IRC says at the project's conclusion, a Regional Environmental Assessment was never completed.
"Like programs before, it was short-lived, lacked meaningful input of Inuit knowledge and was unable to meet the standard of a true RSEA in order to support, for example, an understanding of cumulative impacts," the letter said.
The letter, co-authored by the Inuvialuit Game Council, says the Arctic Ocean, compared to Canada's other coastlines, is the least studied. It also calls for long-term monitoring and reports considerable gaps when it comes to understanding issues such as the amount of fish and their food sources.
UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries researcher Rashid Sumaila said he thinks the Beaufort Sea would be appropriate for a broad study such as an RSEA.
"There's a lot of changes coming. This makes the place really special," said Sumaila.
Smith said the timing of the letter is good, given last week's pledge by Canada and the U.S. to do more research in the Arctic.