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Permanent Participants weigh in

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Structure of the Arctic CouncilStructure of the Arctic Council

This article originally appeared in issue 01.17 of The Circle. See all issues of The Circle here.

Indigenous peoples’ organizations are permanent participants in the Arctic Council. Here, some of the organizations share their views on the coming Finnish chairmanship.


Including Sámi Parliaments

THE SÁMI PEOPLE have been engaged in the Arctic Council since it began in 1996. The Saami Council is one of the six Indigenous peoples’ organizations that are Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council. The Sámi Parliament of Norway works actively with High North issues and has participated in the Arctic Council through the state delegation since Norway had the chairmanship in 2006-2009. When Finland takes over the chairmanship, it will be critical that Finland and Sweden work to ensure the other Sámi parliaments are present at Arctic Council meetings.

The Sámi Parliament maintains that international climate action should continue to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; recognize the value of Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, practices, and innovations; and ensure access to climate funding for Indigenous peoples of all regions. The Sámi people are determining the path of our own economic, social and cultural development. It is important that future development and growth in the Arctic has the latitude to tailor new economic activities to the contexts and needs of the communities they affect. The Sámi people must be able to express their values, priorities, and perspectives on our full participation in the economy, on the impacts of development, on what constitutes sustainable development and environmental protection, and on fundamental human rights. Many aspects of Indigenous cultures in the Arctic are dependent on snow and ice and are tied to renewable resources. The Sámi traditional livelihoods, especially in reindeer husbandry, fresh and seawater fishing, small-scale farming, and hunting and gathering, have been the cornerstone of Sámi culture for centuries. Today, these livelihoods face a serious threat from climate change, which the Arctic is experiencing twice as fast as anywhere else in the world.

JON PETTER GINTAL is a Senior advisor to the Sámediggi, the Sámi Parliament in Norway.


Improving connections and information

THIS IS A GOOD OPPORTUNITY to look at what new initiatives and priorities will take place during the Finnish Chairmanship. The Arctic consists mainly of small populations separated by large distances. Many Arctic communities are not located on a road or rail system and rely on air transportation. Poor connectivity makes distance learning problematic. But education is a key factor in community sustainability and resilience. Working with the University of the Arctic to strengthen educational opportunities for polar communities and continuing the work of the Task Force on Telecommunications Infrastructure in the Arctic could have long-term and far-reaching positive influence.

A new area for potential cooperation is in Arctic meteorology and should include collaboration between the Arctic states and the World Metrological Organization. Continued work to implement the existing Search and Rescue Agreement and the Agreement on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response will benefit from improved weather data. Improved cooperation between the Arctic states in marine activities both within their respective Exclusive Economic Zones and in areas beyond national jurisdiction will also benefit the region through increased safety and consistent management practices. Monitoring amendments to the International Marine Organization will also be important, especially when it first comes into force. Measures are also needed to strengthen internal Arctic Council cooperation by working to ensure smooth transitions and cooperation between chairmanships and working groups, improving the inclusion of observers in the Council’s work, and continued support of the Arctic Council Secretariat while improving the visibility of the Arctic Council globally.

Work to strengthen social progress for Arctic Peoples will be vital in the coming years. The profound effects of accelerating climate change need to be recognized while looking at ways to stop global warming and mitigate those effects that cannot be stopped. This can happen through a commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement which the Arctic states should lead since the Arctic is experiencing those effects more drastically than any other place on the planet. Work that focuses on human health, education, and combating social problems such as suicide and substance abuse will benefit all Arctic communities. Finally, all the Arctic Council’s work will benefit from a robust inclusion of Indigenous knowledge. When considered from the very beginning of every initiative, project outcomes will always be improved making them more vital to Indigenous peoples and local communities.

The Aleut International Association represents the Aleut people in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands of Alaska and the Commander Islands in the Russian Federation. JIM GAMBLE is the Executive director of the AIA.


Clean power for Arctic communities

THE FINNISH Prime Minister says all of Finland will be powered by renewable energy by 2050. This is a goal the Gwich’in Council International (GCI) can get behind. For the past two Arctic Council chairmanships GCI has prioritized projects related to a clean energy future.

The environmental and economic impact of the high price of energy in our communities is too high. We need to share the goal of the Finnish chair to move our communities towards renewable energy technologies. We look forward to learning from Finland how they will do this and see what their experience can teach us while sharing with them what we’ve already learned as per the mandate of the Arctic Council: inhabitants across the Circumpolar North working together.

GCI is contributing to this goal by acting as the lead or co-lead on several Arctic Council projects related to renewable energy:

  • Arctic Renewable Energy Futures Framework (AREFF) aims to create a toolkit of resources for communities to develop energy plans that move towards renewable energy;
  • Arctic Renewable Energy Network Academy (ARENA) provides mentorship and educational opportunities for community leaders and
  • Arctic Renewable Energy Atlas (AREA) creates an inventory of existing renewable energy infrastructure available in the Arctic.

We’re also proud to be a partner in the Finland-hosted Arctic Energy Summit, which will take place later this year in Helsinki. The Summit will highlight innovations in renewable energy technologies, create opportunities for sharing best practices, and build a circumpolar network of companies, governments, and non-governmental organizations working towards a renewable energy future. Finland takes over the chairmanship at a crucial time for environmental stewardship globally. We welcome their continued leadership in environmental sustainability, exemplified by their renewable energy goal.

GRANT SULLIVAN is the Executive Director of the Gwich’in Council International, which represents Gwich’in in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alaska.


From policy shaping to policy making

WE HAVE MUCH to be grateful for in the Arctic, this peaceful region governed by eight nation states. Four million people call this home and more than 40 different Indigenous peoples or ethnic groups form a significant part of the population – all of whom have varying degrees of rights, including settled land claims, selfgovernment and treaty rights. Importantly, all have the right to self-determination advanced through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is also a complicated region. Communicating with each other is difficult as is travel. It is extremely expensive to live, work and function here.

To those who live and work in the Arctic, it is a privilege and an international arena where good things are happening and where even more can be achieved.

The Arctic Council remains the most important forum to ensure the Indigenous knowledge of the Inuit and other Permanent Participants is heard and that the Permanent Participants directly contribute to Arctic science, research and policy development through the Council and bilateral relationships with Arctic states. The 160,000 Inuit who live in 150 communities and villages in Canada, Greenland, Russia and the United States share the responsibility of engagement and influence within the Council with the other Permanent Participants.

As the US chairmanship concludes and Finland assumes the Chair, we should celebrate the US Chairmanship successes and have the courage to reflect on where we can improve. As the US Senior Arctic Official suggested in an interview, we need to re-visit the 2013 Arctic Council Ministers’ “Vision for the Arctic” and assess if we are indeed pursuing the appropriate opportunities to expand the role of the Arctic Council and the Permanent Participants from policy shaping to policy making. This is an ongoing evolution – each chairmanship moves the target forward, bringing new vision and energy to the Council.

The United States has worked hard to address issues concerning the peoples of the Arctic and we have enjoyed working with our American counterparts. Projects which advanced human rights, Indigenous knowledge and science, Arctic Ocean cooperation, renewable energy projects and mental health and suicide prevention have been implemented.

As Chair of the ICC, I want to encourage the incoming Finnish Chair to keep moving forward projects that have real societal value for the Arctic and its peoples. Successive Chairmanships can count on ICC to support their mandate for the benefit of all partners and our respective peoples. Raising the bar, building equity and demonstrating partnerships through collaboration must always be our goal.

OKALIK EEGEESIAK is the International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council

Increasing Indigenous capacity

THE ARCTIC COUNCIL provides a platform for Indigenous peoples to add their voices to international issues. These Permanent Participants – the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, the Saami Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North – sit at the Arctic Council table and contribute substantially through their unique perspective and input on international issues. This ensures the actions of the Council are shaped by those who are affected by those actions and that Indigenous culture, traditions and knowledge are reflected in Council business, research and proceedings.

These Permanent Participants contribute substantially to the Council’s authoritative status in the region. Yet since the Council was created two decades ago they have consistently been challenged to maintain robust involvement due to a lack of adequate, sustained and stable funding.

In the Council’s 20-year history, each Ministerial declaration has recognized the need for an appropriate funding mechanism to ensure the Permanent Participants can fully engage in the business of the Arctic Council. The vehicle to finally act on this long-standing deficit is the newly-created Álgu Fund. In early 2017, this capacity-building charitable foundation was established by the Permanent Participants to provide reliable funding on an equitable basis to each of the Indigenous organizations represented at the Arctic Council.

Álgu in the Saami language means “beginning”. In this case, it marks a new beginning for the participation of Indigenous peoples’ organizations in the business and proceedings of the Arctic Council. The Álgu Fund will operate independently of but alongside the Arctic Council to provide stable, predictable funding. This will be distributed on an equal basis to the five Permanent Participant organizations to increase access to research, while improving capacity for community engagement and ability to collaborate on projects.

The Álgu fund is chaired by James Gamble, (AIA), while Vladimir Klimov (RAIPON) is the vice Chair. The other board members are: Grant Sullivan (GCI), Chief Gary Harrison (AAC), Outi Paader (SCI).

The Álgu Fund is now actively soliciting support. Please contact

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