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Gwich'in object to Dene stance
Tribal council president doesn't agree with opposition to offshore drilling

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gwich'in and Inuvialuit representatives are condemning news that aboriginal groups have signed a statement calling for tough new measures to control economic development in the Arctic.

NNSL photo/graphic

Gwich'in Tribal Council president Robert Alexie is not happy with a joint statement for Arctic protection signed by aboriginal groups during a conference in Kiruna, Sweden, on May 14. - photo courtesy of Larry Frolick

The Joint Statement for Arctic Protection was signed last week in Kiruna, Sweden, during the Arctic Indigenous Peoples Conference, organized by Greenpeace. It calls for an end to offshore drilling and a "pause in Northern projects" unless local aboriginal group agree to it.

Signatories include Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus and Canada's fellow Arctic Council participant, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North.

Gwich'in Tribal Council president Robert Alexie reacted to the announcement in strong terms, as did Inuvialuit Regional Corporation president Nellie Cournoyea. Alexie said the GTC was not consulted about the statement beforehand. The Gwich'in are part of the Dene Nation, of which Erasmus is chief.

"It came out of the blue. First, those who signed the joint statement do not represent, nor do they speak for the Gwich'in Tribal Council," he said. "The Gwich'in Tribal Council is an independent organization representing the 3,400 Gwich'in who are enrolled pursuant to the Gwich'in Agreement."

"We are an independent organization, and I take offence when others take it upon themselves to speak for us or to attempt to represent us, and to make statements that may affect the economy in our settlement area and the future of our people without consulting us."

Alexie said the GTC is in favour of carefully-considered economic and development initiatives in the region.

"We are very careful and adamant that the land should be preserved as much as possible," he said. "We're not going to destroy the land, but we are looking for employment opportunities."

Alexie said he and other members of the GTC believe some careful and cautious development, including possibly offshore drilling, "will provide a lot of employment."

In an e-mailed statement to Inuvik Drum, Cournoyea was on the same page as Alexie.

"We have made tremendous gains as Inuit to settle our land claims so that we can have a major say in what is going on in the Arctic," she wrote. "As Inuvialuit, we have our land claim that was settled in 1984. The Inuvialuit, along with other Inuit institutions, are also part of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which has been actively involved with the Arctic Council and have continued dialogue with the Arctic Council. We don't need people like Greenpeace and Bill Erasmus speaking on our behalf. Their statements are disrespectful to us and what we are doing in our region.

"The Inuvialuit are in favour of balanced development," Cournoyea stated. "We have well-respected institutions such as the Inuvialuit Game Council, which is well-known around the world for their approach to the co-management of resources. They do their own research to determine what protections are appropriate, and I have full confidence that they will do the right thing. We deal with issues such as this every day."

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