Ministers from the eight Arctic nations and the leaders of northern indigenous groups are arriving in Iqaluit today and early tomorrow morning for the Arctic Council ministerial meeting that will see the U.S. take over from Canada for its two-year term at the helm.
Hotels are full and the city's Cadet Hall has been set up to accommodate local, national and international media.
The meeting itself — between the ministers and the indigenous representatives, who hold permanent participant status — will be held in the chamber of Nunavut's legislative assembly. Most of those meetings will be closed to the public.
RCMP are tasked with security for the event.
"It will require security for all those accommodations," said Sgt. Yvonne Niego, spokesperson for Nunavut RCMP. "And, of course, the places they're staying and meeting and eating too, and that involves a lot of co-ordination,"
John Kerry to take over
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Iqaluit to mark the beginning of his country's chairmanship.
For many years, the U.S. only sent their Deputy Secretary of State or a lower ranking official to Arctic Council meetings. That changed in 2011 when Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, arrived for the Council's ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland. For many observers, Clinton's presence signaled a new era for the council and a sign that the Arctic was becoming more of a priority for the United States.
Kerry, who took over from Clinton as Secretary of State, made his first appearance at the Arctic Council at the next ministerial meeting two years later in Kiruna, Sweden. That meeting took place just days after President Barrack Obama released the U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic region.
Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut's MP and then federal Health Minister, represented Canada in Kiruna, prompting some critics to question why Canada was not sending its foreign affairs minister to the table. Aglukkaq later became the first federal aboriginal minister to head the Arctic Council.
Kerry's speech at that meeting may give an indication of what the U.S. will focus on during the next two years.
"The threat of climate change is as ominous as ever," he said in 2013. "Its effects are as tangible as ever, and the courage — literally, the courage — that we summon in the coming months and years is as crucial as ever."
While the U.S is sending its equivalent of a foreign affairs minister, Russia will instead send it's Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Sergei Donskoi. It's a marked departure from recent years and the ministerial switch comes in the wake of tensions between Canada and Russia over Ukraine.
Community event Saturday
Still, Arctic Council participants hope this week's meeting will be productive and that the new U.S. chairmanship will benefit the people of the north.
Inuit Circumpolar Council's chair Okalik Eegeesiak says the U.S. should consider a theme that includes improving living conditions for people in the North, especially when it comes to food security and housing.
The ministerial meeting takes place on Friday. Some of the ministers will leave at the end of the day.
A community event will be held on Saturday, hosted by Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna and Iqaluit Mayor Mary Wilman.