The Beaufort Sea Boundary Dispute: A Consideration of Rights of Inuit in Canada and the United States


  • Nora Refai



Canada and the United States are involved in a long-standing dispute concerning the maritime boundary of the Beaufort Sea, located north of Canada and the State of Alaska. With rising global temperatures and the resulting interest in the potential newly accessible resources in the Beaufort Sea, there is increased political pressure to resolve the dispute within the next few years. A likely resolution of this dispute is that the two countries “agree to disagree” and enter into various co-management agreements governing the Beaufort Sea region. This article maintains that if an “agreement to disagree” is reached between Canada and the US regarding the Beaufort Sea boundary dispute and the result is various joint management of the region governing the protection and exploitation of its natural resources, then Inuit in Canada and the US have a right to negotiate such agreements as affected parties. This article considers the rights and entitlements of Inuit in Canada and the US to meaningfully participate in international negotiations regarding agreements governing the Beaufort Sea and its resources. This article analyzes the comparative legal rights of Inuit in Canada and US to share in the Beaufort Sea’s resources, protection, and management. The author discusses the relevant land claim agreements and legislative schemes, common law and constitutional rights in judicial precedents, international legal norms, and policy arguments that support Inuit communities’ right to sit at the table with Canada and the US to negotiate international agreements to resolve this dispute. The Arctic, including the Beaufort Sea, is the home of Inuit, and they possess legal rights to participate in shaping Arctic governance policy.