Sunday, 23 December 2012 21:58

Going circumpolar

Old Crow, Yukon Territory Old Crow, Yukon Territory T. Jeans/ReSDA

Resources and Sustainable Developments in the Arctic (ReSDA) is the name of a Canadian project aimed at helping Northern communities get more out of their natural resources. The project coordinators point to historical precedents like the Klondyke gold rush in the 1890’s.

The sudden influx of some 100,000 people had devastating impacts on the indigenous population in the Yukon areas as had the Arctic whaling industry in the beginning of the 20th century.

The ReSDA coordinators could also point to current or impending scrambles for oil, gas and minerals in almost every part of the Arctic region, in Greenland, Alaska, Arctic Russia, and Scandinavia. Everywhere there’s a need for finding ways to ensure that more benefits of resource development stay in the local communities.

Canadian Arctic chairmanship

Indeed, to extend its field of action and go circumpolar is one of the questions being considered by the ReSDA organizers at this stage. Another question that concerns them is the possibility of partnering with the government of Canada soon to take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Going beyond the Canadian borders and search for partners in the other Arctic countries, in many ways, is the obvious move to make since Arctic communities everywhere share similar opportunities and challenges when it comes to resource development.

Hitching up with the Canadian Arctic Council Chairmanship, however, also seriously challenges one of the basic assumptions of the ReSDA project, viz., that it does not necessarily support resource exploitation in the North, as a matter of fact, it rather does not due to the inherent dangers to the environment of drilling and mining.

Yet, in case it gets decided to develop a particular natural resource deposit, the aim of ReSDA is to focus on defining best practices and giving local people a choice of tools that will help them benefit from it.

In contrast, the overarching theme of the Canadian Arctic Council chairmanship of putting northerners first, apart from other kinds of investments like in trade and tourism, ostensibly means supporting resource development.

Canadian development priorities

Faced with the challenges of going circumpolar from May 2013 when it takes over the chairmanship, the Canadian government insists on making the connection from human to resource development.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who will also be heading the Canadian Arctic Council chairmanship, says that people who have never set foot in the Arctic nonetheless impact the ways of life in the region by banning now this, now that.

To counter such impacts, the Canadian government intends to use its Arctic Council chairmanship to reach out to the world and tell it about northerners’ true concern for the environment and their sustained efforts at protecting it by way of strict environmental protection regimes.

Others groups within Canada, and among them northerners, have denounced the Canadian policy’s narrow focus on resource development when much more emphasis ought to be put on issues like climate change, soot pollution, and the challenges facing Arctic fisheries.

From among indigenous voices, President of Inuit Circumpolar Council in Canada Duane Smith says that his organization hopes Canada will promote discussions on such subjects as food security in relation to prospects of maintaining traditional livelihoods and harvesting of resources in a changing arctic:

“I don’t mean food security from the grocery store, but sustainable ecosystems that the Inuit rely and depend on.”

The Swedish legacy

Of course, Canada will also have to address the issue of development of the Arctic Council itself, an issue into which so many efforts and resources have been invested in during recent years.

The current Swedish chairmanship has worked successfully on the establishment of a permanent Arctic Council Secretariat in Tromsoe, Norway, to be operational by the time of the Canadian takeover.

The Swedes have also done good work in terms of streamlining the Council’s internal and external communication capacities and of furthering a binding agreement on oil spills negotiated under the auspices of the Council, and likely to be signed by the Arctic states during the next Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, in May, when Sweden will be handing over the chairmanship to Canada.

However, when doing so, it probably will also hand over a couple of issues that have stubbornly resisted falling into place:

One issue, held tightly to the breast by heads of delegations and discussed only at closed meetings, is the Observer applicants question. Another one is the question of IPS, i.e., how to integrate secretarial services for the Permanent Participants within the Arctic Council Secretariat.

The latter question relates to an issue that goes back all the way to the establishment of the Arctic Council, i.e., how to secure, not least financially, the participation of indigenous peoples represented by the Permanent Participant organizations.

Finding a solution would seem to depend on the ability, not least of the chairing country, to think in circumpolar terms and relate to all six Permanent Participant organizations, equally and collectively, and not primarily to those of them represented within the national borders of this or that Arctic country.

Arctic Council - related

As for projects like the ReSDA, it can opt for staying “Arctic Council related”, i.e., it can strive to have relations with all of the circumpolar region, including each of the Permanent Participants, and at the same time avoid having to embrace the policies of the Canadian chairmanship.

The ReSDA is mainly funded by national research and innovation money. In addition, it receives funding from its partners, among them a number of Nunavut institutions and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.

So far, ReSDA has held a number of workshops in Northern communities of Canada the output from which has led to gap analyses being undertaken and to adjustments in the direction of the project, in terms of research themes and sub-projects, but also in terms of the question of how to relate to the Arctic Council and the Permanent Participants.



Personal communication with ReSDA Scientific Director Dr. Chris Southcott

Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway