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Cablegate: Nunavut Territory: Ambassador's Oct. 4-7 Visit

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: During an October 4-7 visit to Iqaluit, the capital
of Nunavut Territory, the Ambassador met with a range of
federal, provincial and municipal officials, as well as with
representatives of the Inuit community. Climate change and
restrictions on seal hunting topped the list of our
interlocutors' concerns, but missile defense also came up,
favorably, as did control of the Northwest Passage through the
Arctic. On climate change, the Ambassador said the Kyoto
Protocol is not a panacea and made the point that the U.S. is
putting more money into responding to climate change than Europe
and Japan combined. On sealing, the Ambassador showed
understanding of the adverse impact of the Marine Mammal
Protection Act (MMPA) on traditional Inuit culture and
encouraged the Inuit to work with the government of Canada to
put this on the GOC's agenda. End summary.


2. Created in 1999, Nunavut is Canada's youngest territory. The
region's arctic climate, vastness and isolation, coupled with a
bottoming out of the Inuit's traditional sealing and hunting
economies, result in a Territory heavily dependent upon federal
subsidies and plagued with social ills (e.g., the suicide rate
is estimated at anywhere from one out of five to one out of
eight of the adult population). Nunavut officials are making
trade-based education a priority. Nunavut also is saddled with
a complex set of overlapping bureaucracies: the Government of
Nunavut represents all of the people of Nunavut while Nunavut
Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), established under the 1993 Nunavut
Land Claims Agreement (NLCA), defends Inuit interests and
oversees the 1.14 billion dollars transferred by Ottawa under
that Agreement. Ironically, although Inuit comprise 85 percent
of Nunavut's population of 28,000, they are clearly in a
minority in the leadership of both NTI and the GON.

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Marine Mammal Protection Act

3. In every meeting, officials raised with the Ambassador the
devastating effect of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) on
Inuit society and on the economy. Deputy Premier Levinia Brown
said that sealing is essential to the Inuit, who use all parts
of the seal for food, clothing and heating oil. She
distinguished Nunavut sealing from the slaughter of baby seals
in Newfoundland, decried throughout the world. The Deputy
Premier said the GON wants the MMPA amended, to recognize the
unique situation of the Inuit people. GON Minister of Education
Ed Picco (a former Hudson Bay trader himself) told the
Ambassador that Nunavut hunters used to be self-sustaining but
that since the 1972 passage of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection
Act, sealing is no longer economically viable. The dependence
of Inuit hunters on government handouts has soared from about 20
percent of the population thirty years ago to 80 percent today.
According to the Minister, the difficulty for the Inuit in
transitioning to a modern economy is reflected in a host of
social problems in the region, from a high suicide rate, to
alcoholism and domestic violence. Picco said the GON has been
working to promote Nunavut's sealskin products but that it was
time to put the MMPA back on the table. The Ambassador
responded that it was important for decision makers in Congress
to know all of the facts and that he would report to the State
Department the GoN's concern. He cautioned that it is difficult
to change a law once it has been passed and that there are
powerful lobbies backing the MMPA. The Ambassador noted that,
for the GoN to succeed, the GoC would need to make amending the
MMPA a priority in its dealings in Washington. NTI
representatives thanked the Ambassador for his suggestions and
said that the Nunavut Sealing Strategy would be coming out
shortly and NTI would make sure that it is presented to federal
Canadian authorities.

Climate Change

4. Nunavut interlocutors also raised the impact of global
warming on the arctic climate. Minister of the Environment
Akesuk told the Ambassador that Pangnirtung used to have ten
months of winter and that this has shrunk to roughly three
months. There are major storms even in periods of warm weather.
Different animals are also now appearing in the region and
hunting has been adversely affected. Akesuk said that the GON
has endorsed the climate change strategy under the Kyoto
protocol but that climate change is a global issue that Nunavut
cannot tackle alone. For this reason, the GON is focusing less
on halting climate change and more on readying itself for the
future under changed climate conditions. (The GON, for example,
is looking at how it may need to approach building construction
once the permafrost disappears.) The Ambassador stressed the
U.S.'s leadership role on climate change. The U.S. is spending
more on addressing climate change than Europe and Japan
combined, he said, and the administration wants to respond to
global warming based upon sound science and the transformative
power of technology.

Missile Defense

5. In addition to climate change and the MMPA, NTI officials
also raised missile defense. NTI C.O.O. Richard Paton said NTI
understands that the USG does not at this stage plan to use any
region of Canada for missile defense but that this could change
should missile defense move forward and Canada is asked to
participate. If Nunavut were to be used for missile defense,
Paton wanted the U.S. to be aware that the Nunavut Land Claims
Act provides for preferential treatment of Inuit contractors.
Paton did not express opposition to missile defense but rather
stressed that NTI would like to see a missile defense program
that "minimizes the environmental impact and maximizes the
economic benefit to Nunavut." They would want Nunavut/Inuit
representatives in all phases of discussion. NTI officials
cited the Denmark and Greenland agreements on missile defense as
positive models. (Comment: NTI's position on U.S. missile
defense reflects the generally positive attitudes in Nunavut
toward the U.S. military, which is remembered for having
contributed extensively to Iqaluit's infrastructure, including
construction of the Iqaluit airport in 1947. End comment.)

Northwest Passage

6. NTI officials also asked whether the U.S. might change its
position on the Northwest Passage through Arctic waters. The
Ambassador noted in his meeting with NTI officials (and later
that day in a radio interview with a local CBC reporter) that if
the Northwest Passage is considered to be international rather
than Canadian waters, it becomes more difficult to check for
terrorists. The Ambassador said that he has made this point to
Washington but that it was not clear at this point whether the
U.S. would change its position and support Canadian control of
the Northwest Passage based upon terrorist considerations. NTI
said that for the Inuit, the question is environmental, and they
feel strongly about it.


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