Secure, sustainable funding for Indigenous participation in Arctic Council a key priority: Report

Finding a new way to fund the full participation of northern indigenous groups with Permanent Participant status at the Arctic Council in all of the organizations working groups and activities should be a top priority when Canada takes the chair of the influential inter-governmental organization next year.

The recommendation is one of 19 offered today by one of Canadas foremost initiatives on Arctic issues the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program to the Canadian government as it prepares to chair the Arctic Council in 2013.

The proposals flow from a two day meeting in Toronto last January involving more than 100 stakeholders from 15 countries including northern indigenous leaders and six foreign ambassadors.

Canada should show leadership in promoting the robust participation of northerners, regional and territorial governments, and especially indigenous representatives, says Tony Penikett, Special Advisor to the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program. To bolster indigenous participation, Canada should lead negotiations for a new funding mechanism to support the research, travel and other expenses that would enable Permanent Participants to fully engage in all the workings of the Arctic Council, including its working groups.

Full members of the Arctic Council are Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark (Greenland) the eight countries with Arctic territory. Six northern Indigenous groups the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Arctic Athabaska Council, Gwichin Council International, Sami Council, Russian Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and Aleut International Association wield strong influence as Permanent Participants. The Arctic Council is the only international organization that gives Indigenous peoples a formal place at the table.

Unfortunately, a lack of funding for travel and research resources has limited the effectiveness of the Permanent Participants in Council proceedings and working groups.

Says Thomas S. Axworthy, President and CEO of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation: When created in 1996 the Arctic Council broke new ground in international governance by officially recognizing the status of Arctic indigenous peoples through the creation of Permanent Participants. But the effectiveness of this innovation has been hampered by uncertain funding of the Permanent Participants who require resources to participate fully in the work of the council, especially the more technical working groups.

The January conference recognized that, more than ever, it is critical that voices of those who actually live in the north be heard by decision-makers. Therefore to achieve the full value of the indigenous break through made at the creation of the council it is now necessary to develop a robust funding mechanism to enhance indigenous participation. Similarly, the expertise of northern state, territorial and regional governments should be more fully utilized by the Arctic Council."

The paper, "Canada as an Arctic Power: Preparing for the Canadian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council," (available at recommends that Canada encourage recognition of the special role for regional, state, and territorial governments in Arctic governance and particularly in the Arctic Council. Many of the original parties to the organizations creation advocated an active role for sub-national governments, which is an idea the Council should return to, says Mr. Axworthy.

Authors of the paper note the northern region has become the theatre for dramatic environmental, economic and political change ... Media headlines trumpet the opening of new Arctic sea routes and a rush to resource riches.

The 16-year-old Arctic Council is the most active intergovernmental forum on regional issues today and has been affirmed by key northern nations as the principal venue for discussion of Arctic issues.

May 2011s Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue the first legally binding agreement negotiated within the Councils auspices and the participation of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Nuuk, Greenland the first ever by a U.S. Secretary of State has increased the organizations clout.

Six non-Arctic nations sit in as Observers today: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands, joined by nine intergovernmental and inter-Parliamentary organisations, and 11 NGOs.

With interest growing in the rapidly-changing Arctic, several non-Arctic nations seek Observer status. The paper recommends that any would-be Observer nations first be required to publicly declare [their] respect for the sovereignty of Arctic states and the rights of Arctic indigenous peoples.

Non-Arctic states interested in observer status include China, India, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the European Union and individual European nations such as Italy.

The recommended condition that observers must declare respect for the sovereignty of the Arctic states and the rights of the Arctic indigenous peoples would affect the European Unions consideration as an Observer, due to their stance on indigenous peoples hunting and selling their products on the international market.

Other recommendations to the Canadian government regarding the Arctic Council include:

New Arctic fisheries

Noting that the ice caps recent retreat is creating access to new, largely unregulated fishing grounds with potentially devastating impacts on Arctic marine life and indigenous peoples who rely on the sea, the papers authors call for an assessment of competing interests and existing conflict resolution mechanisms.

They underlined the recent call by 2,000 scientists for a moratorium on Arctic high seas fishing to allow time for research of catch limits and development of an integrated international Arctic fisheries management plan. While the United States and Denmark have adopted this policy, Norway, Russia and Canada have yet to do so and the scientists are especially concerned that countries such as China may soon send its fishers into these unregulated waters.

Says the paper: Should anybody read the term commercial fisheries moratorium to include whaling, Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program Policy Analyst Ryan Dean observes that Norway, Iceland, and others may object. If the Arctic Council chooses to involve itself in these issues, it will likely focus on assessments and science.

A less ice-bound Arctic will inevitably open opportunities for natural resource exploration and exploitation. Various non-Arctic states have already expressed eagerness to exploit these natural resources. Outside interests will lobby both Arctic Council member states and Permanent Participants, who as the Arctics long-time stewards work to protect sensitive habitats while balancing their rights and interests with the claims of the non-Arctic states.

Emergency management

The paper says the need for continued work on an effective international cooperation agreement on air and sea search and rescue was underlined by two fatal air accidents in Northern Canada and a deadly fire on board a Norwegian cruise ship.

An unprecedented agreement in this field was signed last year in Greenland and will be followed shortly by another on maritime oil spill preparedness and response.

The agreement represents the first binding instrument negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council, the paper notes, and although not everybody sees binding instruments as a positive step, others welcome the evolution of the Council from a primarily advisory body to a treaty-negotiating forum.

Says Mr. Axworthy: This is a defining moment for Canada to show that it is a leader in the Arctic region, but it must prepare today for its chairmanship if it wants to be taken seriously as an Arctic power. This Arctic Council chairmanship is a chance for Canada to show that it is an Arctic leader beyond its military capabilities, but also in Arctic governance and diplomacy.

Source: Secure, sustainable funding for Indigenous participation in Arctic Council a key priority: Report