The federal government has not finalized the creation of a bowhead whale sanctuary off the Baffin Island coast, so Inuit are planning a party next month to nudge the government on the issue.
Inuit land-claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) will hold a party Aug. 6 in the hamlet of Clyde River near the site of the future Niginganiq National Wildlife Area.
The party will mark one year since the federal government signed an Inuit impact and benefits agreement (IIBA) for the 336,200-hectare Niginganiq site.
Located in Isabella Bay, on the northeast coast of Baffin Island, the Niginganiq National Wildlife Area will protect the essential feeding and resting grounds for thousands of bowhead whales.
One year later, the sanctuary has yet to become a reality since the government still has to give it the official stamp of approval.
Election could delay progress
Nunavut Tunngavik president Paul Kaludjak told CBC News that it has been a long wait — one that could get even longer if a federal election is called this fall, he said.
"It's always on the table. You take it as it comes, and if they call an election, so be it," he said Tuesday.
"It will be another hurdle that we have to wait for. We look forward to it getting passed through Parliament and going forward with it."
The Aug. 6 celebration is a way to let people know that the national wildlife area is important for both NTI and the people of Clyde River, Kaludjak said.
'We always try to be patient'
He admitted the celebration is partly meant to put pressure on Ottawa to make the sanctuary official.
"We always try to be patient, and I know there's value in terms of the IIBA being positive for the Inuit side, where we see benefits long term," he said.
In Clyde River, Joannasie Aapak of the local bowhead committee told CBC News the Niginganiq National Wildlife Area will attract tourists and much-needed jobs to the hamlet of about 820.
More than a 100 students and educators travelling on a ship with the Students on Ice program will join the Aug. 6 celebration.
Kaludjak says federal politicians and senior staff are also on NTI's invitation list.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates about 1,500 to 2,000 whales inhabit the Niginganiq area during the late summer and fall feeding periods.
Clyde River residents have been seeking protection for the area since 1998.