North

Indigenous groups left out of Arctic leaders' summit

Arctic indigenous groups are criticizing Canada's decision to leave them out of an upcoming meeting of Arctic nations in Quebec next month.

Arctic indigenous groups are criticizing Canada's decision to leave them out of an upcoming meeting of Arctic nations in Quebec next month.

Federal Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon recently announced that he will host a meeting of foreign ministers from the Arctic Ocean coastal countries of Norway, Russia, Denmark (which includes Greenland) and the United States on March 29 in Chelsea, Que.

The Arctic leaders will discuss ways to pursue responsible economic development in the North, Cannon said in a release.

"I think it's vitally important that Arctic indigenous voices are heard at this meeting [and] that our participation is taken into consideration," Cindy Dickson, executive director of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, told CBC News.

The five coastal nations border on the Arctic Ocean, and leaders from each country are trying to extend their sovereign claims over a larger area of the Arctic seabed, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Discussions about Arctic issues are usually held at the Arctic Council, which has representatives from governments and northern indigenous groups.

But officials from the five countries have started meeting independently of the Arctic Council, first in Ilulissat, Greenland, in 2008, and now in Quebec next month.

"It's our concern that we see some of the states involved in the Arctic Council now … move the discussions out of the Arctic Council and to create kind of separate bodies," said Gunn Britt Retter of the Saami Council in Norway.

In announcing the upcoming meeting, Cannon said it will reinforce "ongoing collaboration in the region, including in the Arctic Council."

But Dickson said she is especially displeased that indigenous groups are not being invited to a meeting where northern economic development will be discussed.

Both the Arctic Athabaskan Council and the Inuit Circumpolar Council plan to lobby the federal government to include them in next month's summit.

Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada president Duane Smith told CBC News that his organization has contacted various government officials, and plans to correspond with Cannon shortly.

The Arctic meeting will take place right before Cannon hosts the G8 foreign ministers' meeting in Gatineau, Que., on March 29 and 30.