Michaela Louise Coote
The Arctic Council (AC) is a decision-shaping body and a regional organisation dating back to 1996 (Kankaanpää and Young, 2012). The Council comprises eight Member States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US) and includes the voices of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) of the Arctic, through the Permanent Participants (PPs) (The Parliament of the Uk, 2015). The AC is widely seen as providing the best platform for a new, peaceful and collaborative form of Arctic governance (Stokke, 2014).
IPs have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years, managing local resources in a sustainable manor and adapting quickly to environmental changes (Young et al., 2004). Not only are IPs today seen ideologically as protectors of the Arctic region, and as knowledge holders who could shed new light and provide valuable skill-sets for environmental protection measures, but IPs live on the front lines where they will be most affected by environmental changes (Koivurova, 2008; Nuttall and Callaghan, 2000; Lindroth and Sinevaara-Niskanen, 2013). Traditional Knowledge (TK) is a well-known aspect of Indigenous Knowledge (IK). TK can be understood as a dynamic knowledge system that is holistic and includes a multi-causality framework. TK can be characterised as: “[c]laims of those who have a lifetime of observation and experience of a particular environment… but who are untouched in the conventional scientific paradigm” (Haverkort and Reijntjes, 2010, p. 3).
Environmental changes in the Arctic are a widely studied and debated topic. Coupled with political and business competition, the regime that is being, or should be, set in place to govern the Arctic in the face of such change is also being scrutinised (For example, Stokke and Hønneland, 2006; Berkman et al., 2009, Koivurova, 2010, Young, 2014).
The AC stated the importance of consulting with IPs in its founding Ottawa Declaration (Arctic Council, 1996). The Declaration puts intent and a structure in place for the inclusion of IPs to take part in all levels of its work, including the specialised Working Groups that prepare the bulk of its business. There is therefore prima facie reason to suppose that effective involvement of IPs is important for the quality of the AC’s work and its results, as well as for the peoples themselves. No detailed studies, however, have previously been undertaken to trace and assess what is actually happening in this regard.
This study looked at the role and contribution of the IPs of the Arctic through their representatives, as Permanent Participants (PPs), in the Arctic Council to the work and final outputs of the AC as it grapples with current challenges of Arctic climate change, management and governance. The extent of PPs influence was identified and measured using a qualitative interview process, designed to access information from those who are competent to articulate well-informed views on the IPs’ influence in environmental decision-making in the AC. The study attempted to ascertain what the PPs aims and motivations were and whether the AC structure was satisfactory to allow for their inclusion.