I love places like Whapmagoustui.

It is so far North that many of the traditional Cree ways are still intact and practiced. People are friendly and welcoming and there is not as much suspicion of the outsiders. Generosity and sharing are practiced on great scales.

A recent Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority Annual General Assembly saw almost every non-resident attending the meetings gifted with a pair of traditional gloves. This is a small example of the way everyone is treated.

Places like Whapmagoustui and the Inuit communities though are in for some big changes as the Canadian frontier gets pushed further and further North. It will happen and many companies are gearing up for it. In July, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated nearly a quarter of the entire planet’s undiscovered petroleum reserves lie in the Arctic. They estimate 90 billion barrels of oil and it’s even bigger when you consider natural gas’ potential of 1,670 trillion cubic feet.

Most of it, grant you, is located offshore and this creates a number of difficulties. Remember we are talking the far North with stormy seas, icebergs, months of nothing but night, ice, moving ice, melting ice and intense winds that would make a wind-power magnate drool.

Still the oil companies, who will make saving Great Whale look like a pillow fight, are gearing up to conquer the North. Imperial Oil and its parent company Exxon Mobil have put up $585 million to explore the riches in the Arctic. This is in addition to monies already spent opening up Imperial Oil’s Northwest territories Niglintnak, Taglu and Parson’s gas fields. BP the British oil firm, has committed a staggering $1.2 billion to explore the Beaufort Sea just off of the Northwest territories.

Though it’s far to the west of the Eastern James Bay Cree and Inuit territories one can easily look into the future as new technologies are developed to exploit the North. They will be coming and we’d better be ready.

The oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker was a warning sign say many environmental groups. Given the difficulties in clean-up and the relative fragility of the Arctic eco-system there could be serious consequences and a true danger to protected ways of life for the Cree and the Inuit.

Are these dangers non-existent? The Canadian military doesn’t think so. In response to climate change and the opening of the fabled Northwest Passage there have been increases in activity of all sorts in the Arctic waters. Brigadier-General David Miller of the Joint Task Force North is conducting operations that are “focused on the types of marine disasters that could potentially happen with a sharp increase in naval activity in the North.” One of the tasks of Operation Nanook will simulate a fuel-spill emergency.

It is unknown at this time to what extent the environmental damage will have on the entire eco-system of the North let alone the socio-economic impacts. In any case First Nations and the Inuit have to start preparing themselves for this latest round of exploration and exploitation of the North.