Greenland’s indigenous people are the Inuit. Inuit have lived in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and Chukotka, Russia for millennia. The artificial borders that were cut across their lands and through their seas by various colonial empires have over the past few hundred years separated them considerably. Most did not even know other Inuit lived in neighboring countries, so precise were the divisions. Yet they have remained one people.
In 1977, Eben Hopson from the North Slope of Alaska invited fellow Inuit from Greenland and Canada to his home town of Barrow to discuss ways in which Inuit could re-unite. They conferred about the best approach to take in working together on international matters that were of concern to Inuit as one people.
The state of the Arctic environment, issues of sovereignty, and plans that industry and government had for their lands at the time were central to the decision made by those gathered in Barrow to establish the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC).
Even though Russian Inuit were not able to be among their own people for the historic founding of ICC, a feeling of excitement and unified purpose that transcended borders was present in Barrow. Because of his vision and leadership, Eben Hopson was named the founder of ICC. Russian Inuit were able to join 15 years later. Until that time, a symbolic empty seat was present at all ICC gatherings.
Another Inuit leader that has played a strong role in promoting Inuit unity and in fostering growth of ICC is Greenlander Aqqaluk Lynge. Since Mr. Lynge was a student in both Denmark and Greenland until now, he has committed himself to two parallel struggles – one, moving Greenland forward as a more sovereign nation and, two, bringing all Inuit closer together through ICC. Mr. Lynge has been a continuous member of ICC’s executive council since 1980. From 1997 to 2002, he led the whole of ICC serving as its President. Currently, Mr. Lynge is President of the Greenland chapter of ICC.
Inuit in Greenland use ICC as its voice internationally. Often, the Greenland Home Rule Government and ICC Greenland will work together on important matters relating to marine mammals, trade, language promotion, global indigenous solidarity, and policy-making in international organizations such as the United Nations, Arctic Council and the International Whaling Commission (IWC). ICC is also associated with the World Conservation Strategy (IUCN). Mr. Lynge is presently serving as member of the United Nation Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Combining a government voice with ICC Greenland’s non-governmental voice has shown to produce positive results that benefit all Greenlanders.
ICC Greenland not only supports Inuit in other countries, but plays a strong role inside Greenland in promoting Inuit language, culture, and history and the struggle for their right to continue utilizing the renewable resources. ICC Greenland has become a haven and resource centre for those Greenlanders that want to re-connect with their indigenous past and current indigenous reality. ICC Greenland is a reminder to all Greenlanders of its Inuit past and present and its connection westward to Canada, Alaska, and Russia. For the rest of the world ICC is widely known as the unified Inuit voice.