Indigenous rights in the Arctic – an uncertain situation

The indigenous rights in the Arctic is uncertain says Marion Aslaksen Ravna. In last weeks ministerial meeting in Iqaluit, ministers met with local Inuit residents. (Photo: Arctic Council)
BLOG: The Arctic is rich in natural resources. However, it is also inhabited by people who know how to use these resources in a sustainable way.

The Arctic is rich in natural resources. However, it is also inhabited by people who know how to use these resources in a sustainable way. Within the indigenous cultures of the Arctic, there is an immeasurable amount of knowledge. Knowledge that could make the indigenous communities more independent and self-sufficient. Knowledge that could strengthen other indigenous peoples’ economy and culture. Knowledge that could contribute in making the Arctic a leading region for sustainable and prosperous development.

The indigenous peoples must have the possibility to use this knowledge and to be a part of the development in the Arctic, on their own terms.

Today, one of the challenges the indigenous peoples face on a regular basis, is the loss of territory to other actors, for example mining companies.
Another challenge is the political and social marginalization of the peoples’ home states. Other times is the challenge restrictive legislation that makes it harder to trade products or to continue the traditional use of the natural resources.

Indigenous peoples’ cultures and knowledge are tightly connected to the use of nature. Many of the challenges they face today limits their use of the nature, which again limits the exercising of their culture. Because of this, the threat to the traditional livelihoods of the indigenous peoples is a reality.

The problem is that the indigenous peoples’ inherent rights to land and self-determination are not adequately acknowledged and respected by their home states. This causes a situation of uncertainty about the ownership of the land, not only for the indigenous people, but also for the non-indigenous population in the Arctic. The industrial and economic developments of the territories are also affected by unclarified questions about rights, and sustainable business development in the Arctic demands predictability.

The situation of uncertainty about the future is in itself also a problem for the indigenous population, especially where the area for traditional use of nature overlaps with areas for industrial exploration. It causes difficulty in predicting ones legal status, it impedes planning, and it results in distress and anxiety.

It is time to see the indigenous communities not as obstacles that need to be overcome, but as equal members of the economy and culture in the north. It is time to lay the foundation so that the indigenous peoples safely can be a part of the development of the Arctic.

This requires the acknowledgement of and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights through positive legal measures, and through measures to ensure effective participation of indigenous peoples in matters concerning them.

The Arctic Council should be one of the main arenas for this theme. Because of its structure, with the eight Arctic countries and the indigenous organizations as permanent participants, the council is a unique area for raising the issue of indigenous rights to ownership and use of their traditional territories. 

Future Arctic Leaders 

Future arctic leaders from the Arctic States were last week gathered in Ottawa for a workshop. The occation was the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, and the young leaders met in Canada to discuss and share their vision for the future of the Arctic. 

The Norwegian participants, Andreas Østhagen, Siri Beate Arntzen, Lena Fjellvang and Marion Aslaksen Ravna were all presenting a paper, and you can now read their thoughts on the Arctic future here in High North News. 

Read all papers: 

Developing the "North"? The Implications of Generalization
Our Future in the Sea
Indigenous Rights in the Arctic -an uncertain situation
Building Attractice and Sustainable Communities