"The politics of the Arctic are no longer the politics of the people, but they are the politics of oil".
Since this observation was made in 1976, many Arctic communities have come to rely on the politics of oil as the means to assure their own self-determination and economic well-being. The recent moratorium on gas and oil exploration in the Arctic jointly issued by Canada and the United States once again shows that the Arctic is still not about the people living there, but rather remains in the realm of the politics of oil and determined by powers located far from the Arctic.
The debate concerning Arctic climate change must become a discussion focused on ensuring that the peoples of the Arctic have all the tools, economic, political and social, to not only sustain their livelihoods but also to achieve sustainable development capable of fostering their prosperity.
The notion of persons alien to the Arctic saving it for the betterment of humanity, which to date has characterised this debate, must disappear.
While policies affecting the Arctic often are initiated and promulgated in power centre far from the Arctic, the peoples living in the Arctic must not only to be consulted about these policies but also to collaborate fully in their development and implementation. The recent five-year moratorium on Arctic offshore oil and gas development falls squarely within this description of alien policy- and decision-making.
Although the debate over human-effected climate change has been decided by much of global community, the debate as to whether or not the Arctic should be developed is ongoing. Arctic communities rely heavily on natural resource development as a necessary means to spur major economic development and have achieved various levels of development.
One common denominator, however, is that the peoples of the Arctic of today will continue to seek the same standards of living as those enjoyed by their southern compatriots. The infrastructure must provide food security, quality health care, potable water and effective environmentally friendly waste disposal, educational facilities and reliable and up-to-date communications and transportation services.
To achieve these ends, the peoples of the north must be heard, must be allowed access to their economic strengths, and must be part of the decision- and policy-making process.
Platitudes about self-determination must not remain empty words.
* Christin Kristofferson is a founding Partner at the Arctic Advocacy Group (AAG), former Mayor of Longyearbyen and senior adviser in Conow on international relations. Jessica M. Shadian is a founding Partner at the AAG, the Nansen Professor, University of Akureyri and Senior Fellow at the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History, University of Toronto. She is also the author of author of The Politics of Arctic Sovereignty: Oil, Ice and Inuit Governance(2014). Rosemarie Kuptana is a founding Partner at the AAG, former Chair of ICC, former President of ITK, and President of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. Lesil McGuire is a founding Partner of the AAG, former Senator of Alaska and co-author of the Alaska Arctic Policy.