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The Canadian icebreaker Henry Larsen in Allen Bay, near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, in August, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
The Canadian icebreaker Henry Larsen in Allen Bay, near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, in August, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Earlier discussion

Arctic security: Fighting for the True North Add to ...

Comment From Richard: What do Indigenous peoples -- those who call this territory home -- think about this (colonialist) conversation about 'Arctic sovereignty'? In short, who 'owns' the Arctic? Those who 'manage' it from afar or those that live there?

Jill Mahoney: Click here to read an analysis on Arctic security by Janice Gross Stein and Thomas S. Axworthy.

Michael Byers: A Inuit friend of mine told her son about the title of my recent book: "Who Owns the Arctic?". His reply, "Well, I do of course". The Inuit have lived, hunted, fished and travelled on the ice of the Northwest Passage for thousands of years. This "historic use and occupation" is central to Canada's sovereignty claim, which makes it all the more difficult to understand why the federal government hasn't addressed the social, health and education crises that exist in the North. Fortunately, the Inuit aren't waiting for Ottawa: they're taking matters into their own hands by engaging in international diplomacy as "permanent participants" in the Arctic Council, cooperating closely with other Arctic indigenous peoples, and promoting tourism and other forms of sustainable economic development in the North.

Comment From Rob: Harper has been claiming for years that the Arctic is a high prioity, and has announced some big projects - ice-breakers and a deep-sea Arctic port. He then doesn't follow up. Seems to me all he's doing is playing to the press.

Michael Byers: I give the Prime Minister credit for paying more attention to the Arctic than his predecessors did. But you're right: it's been mostly rhetoric. After five years, it's scandalous that no contracts have been signed for the Arctic offshore patrol vessels or fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. The "new" port at Nanisivik, Nunavut, isn't new at all: it dates back more than 20 years to when there was a lead and zinc mine there. Same thing for the cold weather training facility at Resolute Bay, which uses barracks that my dad slept in 40 years ago. So yes, the PM is playing to the press. The Arctic is an irresistable story, full of mystery, romance and inchoate nationalism. And as I explained above, the opposition parties have given Mr. Harper a free run.

Jill Mahoney: Prof. Byers, thank you for joining us today. Before we wrap things up, is there anything you'd like to leave us with on this fascinating topic?

Michael Byers: It's essential to remember that the only reason that we're talking about the Arctic is because of climate change, which is melting the sea-ice at incredible speed and opening the region up to shipping. It's important to discuss how we adapt to this reality, with investments in infrastructure, personnel and a new emphasis on cooperation with indigenous groups and foreign countries. But we must never, ever, lose sight of climate change, which if left unchecked will destroy the flora and fauna of the Arctic and uproot its peoples. It is on this issue, more than any other, where the Harper government is letting the Arctic down.

Jill Mahoney: Thanks for joining us, everyone.

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