Inuit know-how guides future of remote Arctic park

By Matteo Cimellaro
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Canada’s National Observer

Inuit rights and knowledge remain at the forefront of a new management plan for Canada’s most northern national park, tabled last week in Ottawa.

However, questions remain about whether climate change will increase cruise ship traffic in the ecologically sensitive Arctic and jeopardize sustainable tourism.

The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate, with some researchers estimating it is heating at either three or four times the global average. With the warming of the Northwest Passage, there has been an increase in shipping, including cruise ships, to the Arctic waters in recent years.

In 2022, more than 22 cruise ships visited Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), along the Northwest Passage. Cruise ships and chartered planes are the only way to reach Quttinirpaaq National Park.

The Quttinirpaaq National Park of Canada Management Plan was tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons and sets parameters around the oversight of the park, which sits on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut’s most northern region. The park protects 37,775 square kilometres of land, a little larger than Vancouver Island.

Parks Canada is mandated to review and update its management plans every 10 years.

The management plan contains three key strategies, including supporting the cultural and social well-being of Inuit, a mandate to continue working with Inuit on the park’s oversight and braiding together science and Inuit knowledge to understand the impacts of climate change.

Visitors to the remote national park vary every year, but Parks Canada says as few as 17 people might visit when cruise ships don’t travel there. With cruise ships, those numbers can increase to over 150 people. Experts note that cruise ships and shipping for mining can threaten local marine animals, which Inuit rely on for food.

For example, Arctic water carries sound further than other parts of the oceans, causing marine mammals to migrate away from shipping vessels, Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Lisa Koperqualuk told Canada’s National Observer in a previous interview.

The tabling of the management plan follows approval from the joint park management committee that includes Inuit voices. Inuit won a seat at the table for management of Quttinirpaaq National Park through the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for Auyuittuq, Quttinirpaaq and Sirmilik national parks back in 1999.

For years, beginning with Parks Canada’s creation in 1885, Indigenous Peoples were barred from entering national parks. However, Parks Canada established the Indigenous Affairs Branch in 1999, overlapping with the impact and benefit agreement signed with Inuit in Nunavut to build relationships with Indigenous communities.