Food Sovereignty and Self Governance: the Inuit Role in Managing Arctic Marine Resources

The Arctic is undergoing rapid and immense ecological, economic, and social change impacting the food security of Inuit and other Indigenous peoples who are the region’s first inhabitants, stewards, and traditional users. Inuit communities are increasingly engaging national, state, and territorial governments through co-management institutions to manage subsistence resources in a manner reflecting the United States and Canadian governments’ unique obligations to Indigenous Peoples and to safeguard the Arctic’s marine environment.

The Food Sovereignty and Self Governance project aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of existing and emerging Inuit co-management frameworks in Alaska and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) of Canada. The 2.5-year project is a collaboration between the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska, the Environmental Law Institute, and the University of Alaska. The FSSG project team is reviewing policy and institutional structures and processes related to Inuit self-governance of marine resources to better understand barriers to and opportunities for enhancing Inuit self-governance, based on both the legal system and existing practice. ELI is conducting a legal analysis of four case studies involving co-management of marine resources—salmon and walrus in Alaska and char and beluga in the ISR—by the Eskimo Walrus Commission, the Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission, and the Fisheries Joint Management Committee.

A key finding from the Alaska Inuit-led Food Security Project, completed in 2016, stressed the undeniable connection between food security and food sovereignty. Inuit food security is founded upon a holistic understanding of the Arctic – one in which Inuit are a part of the ecosystem and their physical, cultural, mental and spiritual health are profoundly related to the environment. Food sovereignty is the right of Inuit to define their own hunting, gathering, fishing, land and water policies; the right to define what is sustainably, socially, economically, and culturally appropriate for the distribution of food; and to maintain ecological health.  Without food sovereignty, Inuit cannot realize food security.

The Project will utilize Indigenous Knowledge and social science methodologies and will intimately engage with Inuit who play a role in natural resources management under each case study—all guided by input provided by an expert Advisory Committee.