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Inuit Studies Conference in Aberdeen
            23 – 26th August, 2000

Date: 21 August 2000
Our ref: 699

Delegates to a major international Inuit conference on the increasingly complex and problematic relationship between the peoples, resources, environment, and global processes in the Arctic start arriving this week at the University of Aberdeen for the opening of the ceremony on Thursday.

The conference is devoted to the study of the societies, cultures and languages of the Inuit of Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Siberia.  This is the first time that a conference of this type has been held in a country without an indigenous Inuit population.   It highlights Aberdeen’s position as a leading centre for research in the circumpolar North.   Previous conferences have been held in Canada, Greenland and Alaska.

Over 150 delegates from Iceland, Alaska, Greenland, Canada, Scandinavia, France, Germany and the UK are expected to attend.  Conference sub-themes will include topics such as culture, self-identity and modernity, Inuit history and prehistory, self-determination and self-government, language and globalisation, Inuit world view, art and literature, health, education and welfare.  The conference will also highlight the action that the Inuit are taking in response to social and economic change, the pressure being placed upon the Arctic environment and wildlife, and above all, the critical global importance of the Arctic.

The total Inuit population of the circumpolar North is about 125,000 and occupies a vast area stretching from east Greenland across the north of Canada to the coasts of Alaska and Russia.  The culture represents one of the most extraordinary environmental adaptations to be found on earth.

The conference will open on the morning of Thursday, the 24th of August and will be celebrated with a drum ceremony by Peter Irniq, the Commissioner of the new Canadian territory of Nunavut (‘our land’) which was created in April of 1999 in an agreement which addressed Inuit land claims and harvesting rights.  85% of Nunavut’s people are Inuit, living in an area as large as Western Europe.

The Conference organiser, Professor Mark Nuttall, a social anthropologist and a leading authority on the Arctic, said: “This conference will be unique in that there will also be an historical dimension.  Some of the Inuit coming to the conference have personal ties with the Northeast of Scotland and are coming to trace their heritage or ancestry.  Scottish whalers worked the Greenland and Baffin Island waters in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many Inuit worked on Scottish whaling vessels, visiting and living in Northeast towns such as Aberdeen and Peterhead.
There is renewed interest in this heritage among the Inuit.

“The conference will also examine self-determination and self-government.  The Inuit are very interested in recent developments in Scotland and are keen to follow the progress of the Scottish Executive over the next few years.  Inuit societies have achieved various degrees of autonomy in recent years, most notably Home Rule in Greenland in 1979, and the inauguration of Nunavut in 1999.  The Commissioner of Nunavut will present a flag of Nunavut to Aberdeen’s Lord Provost, on behalf of the people of Nunavut.  This will symbolise the beginning of new links between the Inuit and North East Scotland.”

The Marischal Museum will run a special exhibit entitled “Inuit in Aberdeen” showing tangible evidence of ties between the Northeast of Scotland and the Inuit.  Highlights of the exhibit, one
of the most important collections of Inuit material in Britain, include the collection of Sir William MacGregor, Governor of Newfoundland in the early 1900s, and an alumnus of the University of Aberdeen.  Sir William’s collection includes artefacts from the failed 1875 British Arctic Expedition which were collected by Robert Peary’s expedition in 1906.  He gave his collection in the hope "that the students might be impressed with the fact that the universe is not limited to Aberdeen and its twelve mile radius…”

The exhibit at the Marischal Museum also includes the kayak discovered in 1700 being paddled by an Inuit man off the coast of Aberdeen.  The mystery of how he came to be there still remains to be solved.  The exhibit is free to the public and will be open from 26 August 2000 to 23 February 2001.

The first Conference keynote speech on Thursday, 24th August will be given by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (Canada), a non-governmental organisation representing the rights and interests of all Inuit.  Ms Watt-Cloutier is also a spokesperson on a wide range of Arctic and indigenous issues.

The morning keynote speech on Friday, 25th August will be given by David Scrivener, a lecturer in International Relations at Keele University.  Formerly a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, he worked on arms control issues at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office before moving to Keele University.  His research in recent years has been in the area of Arctic co-operation.

Commissioner Peter Irniq will present the Lord Provost of Aberdeen with a flag from Nunavut at the Aberdeen Town House at 11:30 am Saturday, 26th August, and will then give the afternoon keynote address at the Conference.

ENDS

Further information from:

Conference Website: www.abdn.ac.uk/conference/inuitstudies

University Press Office on telephone +44 (0)1224-273778 or email a.ramsay@admin.abdn.ac.uk.