EDITORIAL: Once strange bedfellows, now in sync

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It wasn’t too long ago that Nunavummiut would question the motives of environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) coming up from the south to determine the future of the Arctic.

Most famously, Greenpeace – so culpable in the destruction of the Inuit seal hunt that all such groups were considered guilty by association – has in the past few years made a turn-around so dramatic that founding board member and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson said the organization was betraying its founding ideals. If you aren’t aware of Watson’s views, they are extreme enough to call this assessment notable.

Where previously skepticism and discomfort dominated, it appears Inuit and environmental NGOs are now working in sync. Greenpeace helped Clyde River win its Supreme Court battle against seismic testing in Baffin Bay, and WWF-Canada is, among other things, helping hunters and trappers associations provide input on the Nunavut land use plan.

What’s the secret to these successful partnerships? Money, no strings attached.

In Greenpeace’s case, its financial backing of the lawsuit brought rewards on two levels – one, the victory achieved the goal of helping protect wildlife in the Bay, and two, it helped bring some healing of the deep scars left by Greenpeace’s extremely successful efforts to destroy the seal hunt.

WWF-Canada has also, in recent years, been taking steps to take a more nuanced and effective approach to its relationship with the Arctic. The organization, which only a decade ago was fundraising on the idea that polar bears would soon be extinct, recently showed its changing messaging on this topic (that they’re not going extinct) at the Arctic Circle Conference last fall.

WWF has established an office in Iqaluit, and has been working closely with Inuit to focus on other areas of shared concern through its Community Voices Fund. This fund gives Nunavut community groups access to WWF money to hire lawyers or consultants, or simply to cover staff time required to work on projects that could see policy or regulatory changes.

Other groups are seeing the benefit of such an approach, too. Tides Canada is another example of an NGO growing its on-the-ground presence in the North. Its Yellowknife specialist was born in Nunavut, and the organization is currently advertising for an Iqaluit associate to work with Nunavut partners to advance environmental initiatives.

All of these NGOs have realized that they can achieve their own goals by working together with local organizations working to effect the change both groups want to see.

Compared to the parachute approach NGOs and charities have tended to take since their first incursions into Inuit territory, it’s refreshing to see such organizations acknowledge that perhaps Inuit know more about the land and its needs than outside observers. It’s also smart business to spend the money locally, rather than spending it on misguided adventures informed by outdated ideas.

Smart Nunavut community groups will look for opportunities to tap into southern funds that could help achieve their own goals. The best approach is to focus on the ideas that will leave a lasting legacy – ideas that change laws or government policies – rather than the one-time donations of sea cans full of used stuff. Finding the right funder can make a huge difference.

Because Nunavummiut don’t need handouts. They need support building capacity and policies that result in increased environmental, social and cultural sustainability.

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