Representatives of the Arctic indigenous peoples gathered on neutral ground since Iceland with its population of a mere 320.000 is not only the smallest of the 8 Arctic states but also the only one with no indigenous population of its own. Still, for the second time the mid-North Atlantic Island hosted an event dedicated to the knowledge of indigenous peoples and its possible integration into the intergovernmental Arctic cooperation.
The first event, the 1994 “Seminar on Integration of Indigenous Peoples Knowledge,” sprang from the recognition of the 8 states joined under the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS, the forerunner of the Arctic Council) of the special role of indigenous peoples in environmental management and sustainable development of their northernmost territories.
Marking the seminar’s 20th anniversary, last week’s workshop, rather than celebrating a history of constant progress within the field, was premised on the same realization of the need to better facilitate contributions of the Permanent Participants into the work of the Arctic Council and, thus, to counter its mainly scientific base and, potentially, bias.
The draft policy paper proceeding from the workshop contains 7 guiding principles centered around the recognition of the value of traditional knowledge and improving its utilization in Arctic Council activities. Furthermore, the workshop participants fleshed out a number of proposals for implementing each of the guiding principles, e.g., by conducting lessons learned exercises and enhance outreach, translation and protocoling of traditional knowledge components, etc.
The renewed Traditional Knowledge initiative came about not least in response to a passage in the most recent Arctic Council ministerial declaration, the 2013 Kiruna Declaration, toward the opening of which Ministers state that: [..] the use of traditional and local knowledge is essential to a sustainable future in the Arctic, and [therefore] decide to develop recommendations to integrate traditional and local knowledge in the work of the Arctic Council”.
Furthermore, toward the end of the Kiruna Declaration, Ministers request their Senior Arctic Officials to identify “[..] approaches to support the active participation of Permanent participants, and to present a report on their work at the next Ministerial meeting in 2015”. Thus, marking the beginning of the second cycle of biennial Arctic chairmanships as Canada resumed the role of Chair of the council for the second time, the Kiruna Declaration seems infused from one end to the other with a will on the side of the Arctic countries to commit to, in the words of the council’s founding document, the “active participation and full consultation” of and with the Permanent Participants.
Yet, in many ways, knowledge, whether scientific, traditional or whatever, constitute one pole of the work of the Arctic Council, whereas the other pole is made up of policy and political decision-making. And the question therefore is if the new Arctic cycle will mark a newfound will to respect the rights of peoples, including the fundamental right of indigenous peoples to self-determination. Or if the Arctic countries, when it comes to their indigenous populations, are content to go round one more time – from scratch.
Sources: AEPS and Indigenous Peoples Knowledge – Report on Seminar on Integration of Indigenous Peoples Knowledge, ed. Bente V. Hansen, Copenhagen, 1994.