Welcoming speech to ICC 11th General Assembly in Greenland

The living resources such as fish and marine mammals are important sources of income, which will and should remain so for generations to come. However, despite innovative product development, climate change may affect the reliability of the catch. Income from the fisheries and marine mammals are not large enough to sustain the welfare levels that the people of Kalaallit Nunaat needs, deserves and asks for.

Onsdag d. 30. juni 2010
Kuupik Kleist, medlem af Landstinget for Inuit Ataqatigiit  
Emnekreds: Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Selvstyre.

Welcoming speech to ICC 11th General Assembly in GreenlandSpeech by Premier of Greenland Kuupik Kleist to Inuit Circumpolar Council 11th General Assembly in Nuuk, Greenland.

Dear Fellow Countrymen, Dear Inuit Sisters and Brothers, Distinguished Delegates, Premiers and Members of Government, Presidents and Members of Parliament, Guests and Friends.

It is a great honor for me to welcome all of you to Greenland and to this conference in my capacity as Premier of Greenland. This day, is a day that we have looked forward to with excitement and high expectations. It is rare that we get the opportunity to meet with large groups of Inuit from other countries. So, indeed, it is a privilege to bid you – my fellow Inuit - as well as our friends and supporters - welcome to Kalaallit Nunaat.

It would be an impossible task to mention all the important achievements by ICC over the last 30 years, thus I want - on a personal note - to touch upon a few issues, which for me seem to be some of the paramount accomplishments.

First of all; the ambition to bring together Inuit living in different states was a single and outstanding achievement in itself, which eventually lead to the creation of the ICC. The vision of creating such a forum was captured by people who had the ability of foreseeing how the world would develop decades ahead, they predicted where the rapid and unforeseeable development of the world would take us and they acted accordingly. We, all the citizens of the Arctic thank the late Eben Hopson whole heartedly.

Second; the ICC have worked, not only for Inuit, but for and together with all indigenous peoples in the world to promote a wide range of crucial issues pertaining to all peoples and have achieved that both Inuit and indigenous peoples became widely known. Among other things, we established a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues at the United Nations.

Third; when it comes to human rights and especially with regards to Indigenous Peoples Rights, those achievements are in my opinion some of the most important developments in terms of recent and renewing steps within international politics. In principle, what we gained from the adoption of the Indigenous Peoples Rights was: the right to self-determination, the right to defend our identity, opportunities to guard our languages and cultures, the right to exploit our natural both living and non-renewable resources, and not least the right to pursue a greater degree of both political and economic independence based on our own will and regulation.

I take this opportunity to thank every single person who, over the last decades, made efforts to reach our common goals. Your work serves today as an example to follow for the rest of the world.

Here in Kalaallit Nunaat, last year on June 21, we inaugurated and celebrated the Self-Government, an extended version of our 30 year old Home Rule Government. The blueprint for the Self-Government was the result of several years of negotiations and hard work between the Greenland Parliament - Inatsisartut - and the Danish Parliament. The Act on Self-Government in Greenland was adopted following a referendum where the people of Greenland voted yes with all their heart.

The Greenland Self-Government has four main elements: [$
A legal affirmation of the rights of Kalaallit to self-determination,

Kalaallisut is now the official language of Kalaallit Nunaat,

The right to take over competence areas such as the judicial branch of government and the oil and mineral resource sector and, finally,

A new economic arrangement with the Danish state. This arrangement means that Kalaallit Nunaat earns all revenue from the exploitation of the oil and mineral resources, while at the same time we have to finance whatever new competence areas we choose to take over from the Danish government.
The implications of the new Self-Government status is as follows: If we as Kalaallit truly want to expand the exercise of our self-determination and maybe even should wish eventually to secede from Denmark, we need to develop our economy. To my government, exercising self-determination also means to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the people. Thus, human welfare and putting people first, is the top priority of my government. The Greenland economy has been under pressure for several years now. With the needs for quality health care, social welfare and education, and an aging population we are under heavy pressure to earn more money.

The living resources such as fish and marine mammals are important sources of income, which will and should remain so for generations to come. However, despite innovative product development, climate change may affect the reliability of the catch. Income from the fisheries and marine mammals are not large enough to sustain the welfare levels that the people of Kalaallit Nunaat needs, deserves and asks for.

We are therefore very keen to develop and diversify our sources of income. In an age of rapid global warming, we also hope that the sheep farmers of the southernmost municipality of Greenland will become important contributors to our domestic consumption of meat and vegetables. Tourism is a sector from which we have great expectations and of which we expect increased earnings. However, the exploitation of our enormous riches in oil and mineral resources is indisputably the most promising and real potential for a greater degree of economic self sufficiency – at a scale that will secure Greenland’s economy base and our future livelihoods.

The environmental catastrophe that is currently happening off the coast of Louisiana, in the Golf of Mexico, affects us all deeply and makes us all painfully aware of the strong concern that we have for the environment. We are well aware of the intense attention my government’s decision to give license for two exploratory drillings this summer of the west coast of Greenland have created. Even though the processing of the application for the drillings has taken years, the disaster in the Mexican Golf made it a very difficult decision. It is very important for me to stress that we made sure that the company given the license apply the strictest possible requirements for safety measures and procedures in their drilling activities. These environmental safety precautions and restrictions as well as the physical and geographical conditions of the Greenland west coast are fundamentally different from the conditions in the oil well in the Golf of Mexico. Greenland cannot and will not accept standards like those applying to the activities in the Golf of Mexico.

Let me assure you of my Government’s and my own personal refusal to compromise the environment for quick cash. As we are going to depend on and live off the environment in all eternity, compromising the environment goes against my government’s policy of putting people first.

Putting people first also means that we refuse to be passive spectators to our own economic development. This is why we have also chosen to invest heavily in the education of children and youth and in the capacity and competence building of the adult population.

A well-educated people will not only be active participants in the development of our own country, but it will also be active participants and rightful owners of the events and developments that are happening at a very fast pace in the Arctic at large.

Enormous responsibilities are on our shoulders. We cannot hide away in our favorite little spot on earth and expect “Government” to take care of business and our needs and to spell out the future for us. Whether as individuals, as communities, as groups, as a people - we will all have to get more involved. More of us will have to become more strongly engaged in cooperation at the local, national, and even international level. We must revive the traditional practices of helping each other when hard times knock on our doors, to learn from each other in tackling the difficulties and problems that we all come across in our lives. We must be willing to take on the responsibility and do the hard work.

Even though, we Inuit share many similarities because of our common heritage, I also think that it is important that we do recognize our differences. We find these differences in the political and legal status we enjoy, the economic and social opportunities that we have at hand, the languages or dialects that we speak, our historical developments, the way we identify ourselves etc. This I mention, not because I wish to distance us Kalaallit from Inuit in Canada, Alaska and Chukotca – on the contrary. I wish for Inuit, to take the mutual understanding and solidarity that we have among and between us to new and higher levels.

These are decisive moments in our history and in the development of our Arctic home. Each of us will make choices, which others may think should have been made differently. Showing respect for one another’s choices is also respecting one another’s right of self-determination.

This Assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Council is not only important in mapping a strategy for how the Council should engage in cooperation among Inuit as well as with non-Inuit for the well-being of Inuit and our homelands. As Kalaallit we will be listening extra carefully to the deliberations in preparing ourselves for welcoming and supporting the incoming Greenlandic presidency of the Council.

Let me give you a few examples of my government’s expectations from the coming leadership of the ICC. We are looking forward to contribute to the implementation of decisions to be taken at this GA in close cooperation with ICC, and we are sure that the important issues on the Arctic agenda will enable us to jointly work for the best of the arctic peoples. The Government of Greenland - together with the Danish government - has agreed to work for the establishment of common minimum standards with regards to mineral and oil activities within the Arctic. We will strive for that the strictest standards and the best available technology be the minimum standards, including development of technologies for fighting pollution once or if environment have been polluted. Lessons learned from other activities in the Arctic have driven us to ensure that economic profits of all mineral and oil activities will be shared within the whole society. We encourage ICC to work with us in developing hearing mechanisms based on the organization’s experiences within the Arctic societies. We stand firm on the principle that the right of decision making and regulations with regards to exploitation of minerals and oil in the Arctic belongs to the arctic peoples.

In closing, I will take the opportunity to thank every President who over the past 30 years has taken on the leadership of ICC and the Inuit, since the first formal GA here in Nuuk in 1980. These prominent persons are:
  • Hans Pavia Rosing (Kalaallit Nunaat)
  • Mary Simon (Canada)
  • Eileen McClean (Alaska)
  • Caleb Pungawyi (Alaska)
  • Rose Mary kuptana (Canada)
  • Aqqaluk Lynge (Kalaallit Nunaat)
  • Sheila Watt Cloutier (Canada)
  • Patricia Cochran (Alaska)
  • Jim Stotts (Alaska)

We thank you all for your leadership.

As I reiterate my warm welcome to Kalaallit Nunaat – let me also wish you a successful General Assembly.

I wish you all a wonderful stay here in Kalaallit Nunaat and in Nuuk. Please feel at home – this is - after all - your home – this is “Inuit Nunaat.”