Arctic Sovereignty

“Sovereignty begins at Home” – Mary Simon, Inuit Leader

Sovereignty means to be independent, to be one’s own master and decide for oneself as well as to own the land. That is what both Inuit and other Canadians want to have happen in the Arctic regions. It is therefore closely linked to self-determination.

Arctic Sovereignty is politically, historically, economically and scientifically important for Canada. It is also culturally and emotionally important for the Inuit who have lived here for thousands of years.

The right to sail though the Northwest Passage has been at the center of much of the discussions about Arctic Sovereignty. There are many myths and stories about European explorers, such as Franklin and Hudson, who searched for it as an easy way to the East but who did not succeed, indeed some perished in the attempt.

Map showing the routes used during the quest for a northwest passage

Routes for four of the major Northwest Passage expeditions

Map showing the present-day navigable routes through Northwest Passage

Present day navigable routes through Northwest Passage
Source: Canadian Geographic website

To Canadians, the Northwest Passage has always been looked upon as a Canadian waterway, an internal passage, but some countries, such as the USA, consider it an international waterway.

This did not use to be a major problem as it was very difficult, in fact impossible, to sail though it because of the thick year-round ice. But with climate change, the situation has changed so it is now possible, but dangerous, for even small boats to sail though the Northwest Passage several months a year. It will become even easier as the ice continues to melt.

This will have major future implications as international ships will use the Northwest Passage as a shorter and therefore cheaper route to Europe or to Japan and China.  It will then be possible to have easier access to minerals as well as to oil and gas resources that previously were impossible to reach.

Many countries are extremely interested in all these resources and it is possible to envisage a future diplomatic and economic “war” about getting these resources. The resources are extremely valuable, billions and billions of dollars worth.

The Inuit claim that since the Arctic regions belong to them, that, therefore, the resources found within, are theirs, though they are sometimes shared with the nation states in which they live (sometimes dependent upon specific agreements). The Inuit want to be fully consulted and included in any development and extraction plans. They also want special attention paid to the environment even when it means that the resources cannot be extracted. The environment, nature and all the animals, is at the very basis of their culture and their existence.

Other countries may lay claim to different parts of the Arctic regions, even some Canadians think they can do whatever they want with the Arctic. Several countries, such as Denmark (Greenland), Russia, Canada and Norway, even want to claim part of the ocean floor of the Arctic Ocean.

The Inuit have asked the government to work with them so as to strengthen their villages and lands in the North as it will be good for all of Canada; for Arctic Sovereignty starts at home. Such a strategy will show other countries that these Arctic regions truly are Canadian.

“ …[Now] new questions are being asked such as: “who owns the Arctic?”. We Inuit have a history that spans thousands of years across the Arctic that others now claim. This question is an old one for the Inuit. While we are uncomfortable with the word “own”, I say it is all Inuit who ‘own’ much of the Arctic, if I must use a non-Inuit word. And through ICC, Inuit will continue to voice this message loudly, clearly and collectively”. (Aqqaluk Lynge, 2008)

The Inuit in the four Inuit regions have collectively written a unified declaration about their collective views and claims about Arctic Sovereignty.

You can read it at

For more information on the Northwest Passage please read:

The Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers are a sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserve.

They provide patrols and detachments for national-security and public-safety missions in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada that can not conveniently or economically be covered by other parts of the CAF.

The Canadian Rangers protect Canada’s sovereignty by:

  • Reporting unusual activities or sightings;
  • Collecting local data of significance to the CAF; and
  • Conducting surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required.
  • There are approximately 5000 – current number of Canadian Rangers;
  • Over 200 – number of communities where Canadian Rangers live; and
  • 26 – dialects/languages spoken by Canadian Rangers, many of whom are Aboriginal.

Operation Nanook

Operation Nanook is an annual joint exercise of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard to train for disaster and sovereignty patrols in the Arctic.

Canadian rangers