The Presbyterians and The First International Inuit Circumpolar Conference
"As you may have heard, we plan to host the First International Inuit Community (later "circumpolar") Conference here in Barrow as a follow-up to the Arctic Peoples Conference held in Copenhagen in 1973," Eben Hopson wrote to the borough staff on October 21, 1975. "Attached is a copy of a grant application we submitted to Lilly Endowment, Inc. that describes what we plan to do, and why," the mayor added.
"Dear Dad," wrote borough staff woman Patricia Corbett the next day to her father, Gordon Corbett, associate synod executive.
"... Enclosed in information on the First International Inuit Community Conference which is dear to Eben's heart. I have been asked to request a letter of support from you to the Lilly Endowment, Gordon St. Angelo. St. Angelo is a very active Presbyterian and I believe the foundation was involved in mainly church activities in the past...
"Dear Mr. St. Angelo," wrote Gordon Corbett November 14, 1975, "I would like to add a personal word of encouragement to you to give favorable consideration for this project...."
The grant requesting $88,819 for the conference was funded and a pre-conference meeting was held in Barrow in March of 1976.
The first Inuit Circumpolar Conference was held at Barrow, Alaska, in June of 1977 with Inuit from Canada, Greenland, and Alaska serving as delegates. Observers came from Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Greenland, Japan, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and various points within the United States.
The Hon. Eben Hopson, mayor of the North Slope Borough, was elected chair. Issues addressed by the delegates and observers included arctic policy and land claims, environmental protection, language and culture, and education and village technology.
A number of church representatives attended and offered the following statement to the delegates at the close of the conference:
We, the official invited observers from churches, are grateful for the opportunity that has been ours to be present during the historic first Inuit Circumpolar Conference.
The agreements that have been reached by the 54 delegates to the conference is evidence of the "common language, culture, environment,
The contributions that each nation has made to the conference through their artistic expressions have brought great joy and enriched our lives, to all we say thank you.
The churches are an integral part of the cultural patterns present in the Arctic and, therefore, we pledge ourselves to encourage the church bodies we represent and persons of faith in the nations from which we come to recognize the goals of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.
Congratulations to you and all the delegates for the successful con-ference. We hope there will be other opportunities for the churches to relate to future assemblies of the Inuit people.
In the Spirit of the Creator, we are,
- Rev. Menno Wiebe, Mennonite Central Committee (Canada)
- Provst Jens Christian Chemnitz, Lutheran Church of Greenland
- Elder Earl Larson, United Presbyterian Church, USA, National Council of Churches, USA
- Rev. Robert Mills, United Presbyterian Church, USA, Synod of Alaska Northwest
- Rev. Gene Straatmeyer, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
- Elder Rex Okakok, Lay Preacher, First Presbyterian Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
- Rev. Keith Lawton, Episcopal Church, Diocese of Alaska
- Rev. Charles R. White, Conference Liaison for Church Relations, Ecumenical Metropolitan Ministry, Seattle, Washington
The Inuit Circumpolar Conference was granted United Nations status in 1983. It continues international political and educational activities. Its website can be found at:
In March of 1985, the Rev. Richard Madden of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, and moderator of the Presbytery's social concerns committee, offered the following resolution on the floor of the Yukon Presbytery:
The Inuit Circumpolar Conference, a multi-national organization of indigenous peoples in which many Alaskan Natives are active in membership and leadership -- formed a Commission to thoroughly and objectively review the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and its subsequent effect on the Native Peoples of Alaska. Justice Thomas Berger, prominent Canadian jurist and former Supreme Court Chief Justice of British Columbia, Canada, as well as the author of the McKenzie Report dealing with indigenous peoples of Canada, was retained to administer the Commission and to author its final report.
Due to particular funding commitments which have not been met, the Commission finds itself in a difficult financial situation. As a result the ICC is presenting a grant request in the amount of $50,000 to Self-Development of People.
Yukon Presbytery voted in favor of supporting the funding request and it was granted.
And the educational process continues. Aqqaluk Lynge was president of the ICC when he offered remarks before the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development in the Arctic April 15, 1997, in New York.
"The ICC represented approximately 130,000 Inuit -- other people often call us Eskimos -- who live in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and the Chukotka region of Russia," Lynge began.
"I come from Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Accompanying me is Ronald H. Brower Sr., vice-president of ICC for Alaska. Ron is from Barrow, an Inuit village on the shore of the Beaufort Sea.
"Many of you may not know much about the Arctic," and Lynge began to fill in their missing knowledge.