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UPDATE: Groups protest the Arctic summit

At this moment (11:00 am), a 13-member team from the Council of Canadians is in Chelsea, Quebec to protest the Arctic summit.

We are here with the Indigenous Environmental Network and are standing just 20 metres from the road where foreign ministers will pass in moments.

Energy campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue has just addressed those assembled here.

Last week, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Council of Canadians, and the Alaska-based REDOIL Network together issued an open letter calling for an international moratorium on all new exploration for fossil fuel resources in the Arctic region.

The letter went to Canadian foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Danish foreign affairs minister Lene Espersen, and Norwegian foreign affairs minister Jonas Gahr Store, who are meeting today at Wilson House, the federal government conference centre in Chelsea, Quebec.

The Canwest News Service reports this morning that these five countries “are positioning themselves to claim new undersea territory along the continental shelves and to exploit the potential oil riches, trade routes and tourism opportunities that an unlocked North could represent.”

The discovery of 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Arctic region has triggered a rush to secure access that include petroleum companies such as Shell and Exxon.

The Toronto Star has reported that, “Much of the energy reserves lie in waters where sovereignty is disputed among Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark.”

Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders has written that these five countries “will gather in Gatineau to divide up the undersea resources.”

Pita Aatami, a top official with the Ottawa-based Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, says, “It is inconceivable that the Government of Canada would contemplate holding a conference to discuss economic development and environmental protection in the Arctic without the active participation of Inuit, who will have to live with the consequences of any new government policies. This reeks of paternalism.”

The Arctic Council (the historic international forum for discussions about the Arctic) includes the five countries meeting today, plus Iceland, Finland, and Sweden, and six Arctic indigenous communities as ‘permanent participants’ – the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Saami Council, and the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

China is also not at the meeting, but Michael Byers writes in the Ottawa Citizen today that, “China knows it can access Arctic hydrocarbons through foreign investments, joint ventures and international markets.”

Rather, he says, “China’s major interest concerns the shipping routes being opened by the melting sea-ice. Different routes will be used depending on origins and destinations: Liquefied natural gas from the Barents Sea will be sent to Shanghai through Russia’s Northern Sea Route; luxury German cars will go straight ‘over the top’; and Chinese goods headed for the eastern US will use the Northwest Passage.”

Twenty-five years ago, the Council of Canadians hired a twin-prop airplane and dropped a Canadian flag on a US Coast Guard ship that had entered northern waters without permission. Today, we stand with indigenous peoples and those around the world calling for environmental justice for the Arctic and its peoples.