The Inuit and the Struggle for an Arctic Zone of Peace

Canadian delegation at the 2018 general assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference,
held in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

Indigenous peoples of the Arctic, along with non-Indigenous residents, have a long and proud history of striving for a peaceful Arctic region. This includes the massive opposition to U.S. atomic bomb testing on Amchitka Island off Alaska in the 1960s and early 70s, the campaigns for peace in Nordic countries, and the long struggle of the Innu and Inuit peoples against the low-level and supersonic military flights that the Canadian government and various NATO countries conducted across Labrador and northern Quebec in the 1980s and 90s.

In 1989, in a powerful statement that still resonates today, Mary Simon, then President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), wrote eloquently about the need to establish an Arctic Zone of Peace. She points outs in her article that a vital starting point is to "recognize that vast regions in northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and eastern Siberia constitute first and foremost the Inuit homeland" and that Inuit people do not want their traditional territories treated as "a strategic military and combat zone between eastern and Western alliances."[1]

She notes that the Inuit people, who have lived in the circumpolar regions for thousands of years, are the Arctic's legitimate spokespersons. Because their lands and communities "transcend the boundaries of four countries" (i.e. U.S., Canada, Greenland and Russia), the Inuit are in "a unique position to promote peace, security and arms control objectives among Arctic states."

"Any excessive military build-up in the North," she states, "whether by the Soviet Union [which was still in existence then] or the United States, only serves to divide the Arctic, perpetuate East-West tensions and the arms race, and put our people on opposing sides."

From an Inuit viewpoint, an Arctic zone of peace would not allow nuclear weapons or testing of weapons of mass destruction, nor military activities that "disrupt or undermine the communities, territories, rights and security of aboriginal and other northern peoples." In that regard, safeguarding the Arctic environment "must take precedence over military exercises and activities."

As a first step, the ICC proposes that Arctic nations must declare that an Arctic zone of peace should be a central objective for them, possibly brought about in stages. Furthermore, that, from these countries, "there must be an express commitment that their future military and arms control policies will be consistent with the objective of a zone for peace" and that Canadian and Nordic state territory "must not be used by any country for offensive and destabilizing military purposes."

Suring the 1980s Inuit assert sovereignty over their lands, Ntesinan, and oppose low
level flights.

In addition, nuclear weapons and all air- and sea-launched cruise missiles must be banned and the naval uses of the Arctic reviewed, keeping in mind that "the principle of unrestricted 'freedom of navigation' on the high seas is out-dated and open to abuse by military powers."

An important step in reversing the trend of militarization would be to develop an "international legal framework that codifies offences against the peace and security of humankind" and that these standards would include such human rights "as the right to peace, the right to development and right to a safe and healthy environment."

In closing, she urged "all Arctic governments, regardless of their military affiliation or nuclear status, to embrace the idea of an Arctic zone of peace" and that for those whose ancestral home has always been the Arctic the future of the North merits no less!"


1. Simon, Mary. "Toward and Arctic Zone of Peace: An Inuit Perspective." Peace Research, Vol. 21, No. 4 (November 1989). Canadian Mennonite University.

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 12 - April 6, 2019

Article Link:
The Inuit and the Struggle for an Arctic Zone of Peace


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