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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Address at the seminar "Arctic Indigenous Peoples: A Dialogue and Perspectives on Common Concerns for Sustainable Societies."

Frumbyggjar á norðurslóðum: Samræður um sjálfbær samfélög og sameiginlegar áskoranir

Opið málþing í Norræna húsinu 15. maí 2018

Opnunarávarp utanríkisráðherra, Guðlaugs Þórs Þórðarsonar

Ladies and gentlemen, dear guests, 

I regret not being able to be with you in person but, at the same time, I am pleased that technology gives me the opportunity to address this important seminar.  

I would like to warmly welcome all of you to Iceland and a special welcome to our friends and colleagues representing the Indigenous Peoples Associations of the Arctic Council.
The Arctic has become a buzz-word in modern society. Slogans for marketing brand everything from vitamins to vehicles as ARCTIC, and the region itself is seen both as an exotic tourist destination and as a land of business opportunities.

Globalization and the ever-increasing melting of the Arctic ice cap has already moved the Arctic, if not physically then mentally, from the “end of the world” to the center of attention.

The steady rise in numbers of Arctic Council observers over the years confirms this growing global interest. When the Arctic Council was first established in 1996, the observers had the modest number of 14. Today, the Arctic Council boasts 39 accredited observers, and over a dozen applications for observer status await decision.

Dear friends,

The Arctic Council is the main intergovernmental co-operation forum on Arctic matters, composed of eight sovereign states: Canada, the Nordic Countries, Russia and the United States – quite an interesting composition in itself.

However, what is unique is the presence and participation of representatives of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the work of the Arctic Council.
Six associations of Arctic Indigenous Peoples have a seat at the table and have a so-called Permanent Participant Status. Their active involvement in the work of the Council truly makes the Arctic Council exceptional amongst other multinational organizations.

It is fair to say that the participation of the Permanent Participants has helped the Arctic Council to develop and grow to the status it has today as the most important body for promoting a positive agenda and joint action on all the critical issues in the Arctic.

Next spring, it will be Iceland’s turn to take over the Chairmanship of the Council and lead the work of the Arctic Council for two years. During our preparation phase we are consulting with other Arctic States and the Permanent Participants on the proposed Chairmanship program – consultations that we deem very important.

My Arctic team at the Foreign Ministry had such a consultation meeting this morning with our colleagues from the Indigenous associations of the Arctic Council. 

Our keynote speakers here today belong to the Inuit, the Nenet, the Saami and the Athabaskan peoples. Four, out of over a dozen, culturally diverse first nations that live in the Arctic.

They also represent four out of the six Permanent participants organizations of the Arctic Council.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In its history of 22 years, the Arctic Council has placed a particular emphasis on issues relating to sustainable development and especially on environmental protection. With increased international interest in the region, the Council’s attention has gradually been shifting towards a more balanced attention to all three pillars of sustainable development; environment, economy and social issues alike.

In Iceland, we know only too well, that to be resilient, a society requires more than one source of income. Putting all your eggs in one basket by relying solely on one sector invites busts and booms. Neither one is particularly healthy. Sustainability requires diversity. That is equally true whether we speak of the ecosystem or the economy.

We also know that all Arctic inhabitants, indigenous peoples and non-indigenous, must work together in finding innovative ways to ensure that traditional ways of life and modern economy can coexist in a sustainable manner in a changing Arctic.

Cooperation should be our goal and during our upcoming Chairmanship in the Arctic Council we will take full account of your wishes and desires. Our intention is to be open and inclusive in our approach with sustainability, in all its aspects, as our guiding light.

I wish you a productive afternoon, good discussions and a happy stay in Iceland. I look forward to our continued co-operation.

Thank you.


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