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Inuit and Federal Governments to Join Up to Protect Marine Biodiversity

The federal government and Inuit of Labrador recently came to an agreement called the ‘Imappivut’ (meaning ‘Our Waters’) initiative that incorporates Inuit Traditional Knowledge (TK) to develop a marine management plan for 380,000 square kilometers of the far east end of the Northwest passage. The zone will be split into two areas, one which extends 12 nautical miles out from shore along the Nunatsiavut coast, another spanning an additional 188 nautical miles.  The co-management of the marine waters serves to protect the biodiversity and Inuit culture for future generations.


The agreement is intended to address increases in sea traffic through the passage as a result of climate change. The President of the Nunatsiavut government, Johannes Lampe, said the initiative is “about respecting our history and current needs.”  The waters around the region play a critical role in sustaining the Inuit of Nunatsiavut.  The fish, birds and whales have relied on the water for thousands of years.  This biodiversity has played an important part of Inuit culture throughout this time.  With so much at stake and so much knowledge, it is imperative the Inuit take proactive measures to preserve their way of life, and that the Government of Canada support these actions.


The agreement aims to foster increasing fishing and tourism for the Inuit for the land closest to shore.  This area will be called the Labrador Inuit Settlement, and will help preserve culture and create marine protected areas.  Over the next six months the Nunatsiavut government will hear from Elders and other regular users of the area to determine which areas are important for Inuit culture, animal habitats, and breeding grounds; and determine which areas are best suited for tourism to promote economic growth.  The Nunatsiavut government will then draft the agreement plan for six months after collecting this data, and will negotiate the final agreement with the Federal government for another six months. Implementation and enforcement will be a shared responsibility; the Coast Guard and other agencies will help enforce regulations, while the Inuit intend to aid enforcement measures by monitoring water and creating programs to protect heritage spaces.


The agreement between the governments of Nunatsiavut and Canada shows commitment to the Inuit-Crown relationship often mentioned by politicians and Inuit leaders.  This agreement grants significant authority over resources to those who rely on them most, and have their very culture at stake should they be negatively impacted.  The Inuit of Nunatsiavut have specialized knowledge that works in tandem with other researchers who know the sea and study how it is responding to climate change.


Canada has committed to have conservation measures for 10% of its marine areas by 2020.  As of the end of 2016 only 0.96% of Canada’s marine territory was protected. While the Imappivut   initiative is a step in the right direction, one would hope that it would inspire further conservation of land and marine areas which Indigenous peoples rely on to respect and preserve culture.


To respect Indigenous sovereignty, Canada must support Indigenous initiatives to conserve historic or contemporary land bases. Who better to manage conservation efforts than the people who have lived on these lands for thousands of years, and who have a responsibility to protect it through Indigenous laws and legal orders? Relatedly, as far as Canadian law is concerned, there is a direct connection between s. 35 Aboriginal rights and a right to conservation, which has been explored in academic work. In addition, Indigenous-led conservation measures are a step towards self-determination – control and management of land and resources is a powerful characteristic of a self-determining nation. In this environment, TK related to Indigenous-managed resources and associated cultural practices are allowed to flourish. Incorporating TK into Indigenous-led conservation practices is an important practice in respecting Inuit-Crown and nation-to-nation relationships, which will further the goal of reconciliation to which the Government of Canada has committed.

Andrea Lesperance is a Research Assistant with ABS Canada. Andrea is currently completing her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law. In 2014, Andrea graduated from the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Earth and Environmental Science with Honours. She has focused her academic scholarship on contemporary Indigenous issues and resource management. Andrea previously worked in community development within South African townships.