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Eskimo reunion helps preserve Arctic culture

For years Manasse Mathaeussen of Ilulissat (Jakobshavn), Greenland, has made a little money on the side by demonstrating the proper use of a kayak to foreign-looking people with cameras around their necks.

Last week in Frobisher Bay in Canada's Northwest Territories, he had the most enthusiastic audience he has had for a long time. For once, he was being watched not by tourists but by 400 of his own people, Inuit (Eskimo) from across the Arctic.

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As rapid development is changing their lives, the Inuit of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland (a semiautonomous province of Denmark) are becoming increasingly aware of their own culture.

Manasse Mathaeussen's demonstration occurred in connection with the third general assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), an international organization founded six years ago in response to southern interest in the strategically important and resource-rich region near the top of the world that the Inuit consider home.

The purpose of the ICC is to strengthen unity among the Inuit and to promote Inuit rights at the international level. Representing the 100,000 Inuit living in the noncommunist part of the Arctic, the organization is becoming more and more influential.

The Frobisher Bay conference produced a number of resolutions that will serve as the ICC's political platform until the general assembly meets in Kotzebue, Alaska, in 1986.

The issues ranged from the creation of a common orthography for the various dialects of the Inuit language and equal representation of men and women in future general assemblies to global issues such as protection of the fragile northern environment and the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the Arctic.

Delegates expressed opposition to the plans for the testing of cruise missiles in northern Canada and placement of MX missiles in Alaska.

The ICC will work to stop the exploration and exploitation of uranium in the Arctic and the testing of small nuclear reactors in the Canadian north, as planned by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

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''We don't want our Inuit homeland to be used for nuclear testing or as a nuclear dumpsite,'' said Hans-Pavia Rosing, a youthful Greenlander who was reelected ICC president for another three-year term.

One resolution called for formation of a special seat for Soviet Inuit on the ICC's executive council. During the conference an empty chair served as a reminder that the 5,000 Siberian Inuit were not represented. The Soviet government has never permitted the Siberian Inuit to attend the conference.

This was the third ICC conference. It continues a tradition from a not-too-distant past, when the Inuit gathered from great distances in the summertime to talk, celebrate, sing, and tell stories. Today such meetings include folk songs, drama, and Inuit rock music as well as such traditional forms of expression as drum dancing and throat chanting.

But the political content of the meetings is just as important. Hans-Pavia Rosing sees his organization as defensive, protecting Inuit culture and the sensitive Arctic environment.

''To Inuit, the Arctic is a homeland,'' he said in his report to the general assembly. ''We have lived here for thousands of years. For all its harshness, we love this seemingly inhospitable region.''

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