Adrienne M. Davidson

How do we understand the evolution of sub-national governance in the North American Arctic? In what ways are Indigenous policy actors empowered and organized? Discussions of circumpolar regionalization often focus on the increasing role of state, provincial, or territorial governments in policy development, in international relations, and in managing the future of the north. However, these institutions do not constitute the only form of regionalization that the Arctic has experienced. Over the past 40 years, the North American Arctic has also seen rapid political change at the sub-national level. The land claims movement, which emerged in the 1960s in Alaska and in the 1970s in Canada, shifted policy authority into new regional institutions and empowered local indigenous populations. This has meant that the northern territories and the state of Alaska have moved toward becoming their own quasi-federal systems, and has heightened the complexity of northern governance. This paper presents a comparative study of regional models of governance in the North American Arctic. The paper pays specific attention to regional models that emerged in a policy vacuum, prior to the pre-1990s period that saw both US and Canadian federal governments reaffirm notions of Indigenous sovereignty. However, due to policy legacies and path dependency, some populations do not (and may never have) Indigenous self-government. The paper explores the layered development of governance, focusing on the Northwest Arctic and North Slope regions in Alaska, and the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in regions in the Canadian Northwest Territories. This paper explores how differences in institutional structure influence shape regional policymaking, and how these institutions are poised to affect the future political, economic, and social development of Arctic Northern America.

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