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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

International Round Table

International Round Table
- Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Parliamentary system of the Russian Federation: Experience and Prospects -
Address by Ambassador Benedikt Jonsson on behalf of Iceland's Chairmanship of the Arctic Council

March 12-13, 2003
Moscow, Russia

On behalf of the Chair of the Arctic Council, let me thank RAIPON, IWGIA and the Duma for the invitation to this important event. The Chair has also asked me to deliver his warm regards to all Round Table participants, wishing for a fruitful debate.

Participation of the indigenous peoples of the Russian North in national politics is indeed highly relevant to the work of the Arctic Council and to the Arctic Council model of co-operation with indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples of the Arctic played an important role in the negotiations to create the Arctic Council. The Council is a distinctive form of co-operation between governments and indigenous peoples in the Arctic region. Several organizations representing indigenous peoples are recognized as Permanent Participants, namely, the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council, the Aleutian International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council and Gwich'in Council International.

These organizations contribute to the Arctic Council}s work with active participation and full consultation. This principle applies to all meetings and activities of the Arctic Council.

This special relationship and the contributions of indigenous peoples and their communities is unique and adds great value to the work of the Council, allowing it, for example, to make use of traditional knowledge in its work. This is for example true as regards ongoing work on the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). To facilitate the involvement of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic in work within the Arctic Council, an Indigenous Peoples Secretariat is operated in Copenhagen.

During its term in the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Iceland places particular emphasis on developing the human dimension of Arctic co-operation, especially as concerns the well-being and quality of life of the inhabitants of the region. With your permission I would like to mention a few Arctic Council projects and initiatives that should contribute to this end.

A comprehensive study, the Arctic Human Development Report, has been launched. The Report will have relevance for awareness raising and information dissemination on a variety of issues that are central to indigenous concerns in the Arctic, such as sustainable economic development, resource governance, the effects, both in terms of threats and opportunities, of globalization, rapid cultural and social change, sociocultural aspects of health, gender issues, as well as the growing internationalization of the North. The report will attempt to thoroughly involve indigenous and other Northern voices in the presentation of issues
and processes that are often dealt with at a very abstract level, giving them human faces and tying them to realities on the ground. Many of the lead authors of the report are of indigenous origin and the Report Steering Committee also has representatives from all the indigenous Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council, including RAIPON.

Allow me also to mention the Arctic Council's survey of living conditions in the Arctic, the so-called SLICA project.The goal of this project is to develop new indicators of living conditions for Saami and Inuit communities in the Arctic. The Inuit and Saami populations in Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, Labrador, Greenland, Alaska, Chukotka, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Kola Peninsula share a number of economic, cultural and technological concerns in common, such as higher unemployment and increased social problems, than among the rest of the population in these countries. As a result, it is important, from the perspective of policy planning as well as research, to be able to accurately document the present level and any future changes of the conditions of life in these areas as the project does.

In October this year, the Icelandic Chairmanship will host an international conference on the access, opportunities and obstacles for the use of information technology in the Arctic. Information technology is seen as an important tool for empowering Arctic residents and building capacity in the region. It can prove useful, for example, in the areas of health care and education and in creating new employment opportunities. The adaptation of smaller societies in the North to technological progress and changes is vital for their future and well-being.

Since participation is of the essence of the democratic process, any technological improvements that can raise the level of participation in society also contribute indirectly to the democratic way of life.

In the Arctic, interesting thinking is going on as regards self-government and we are certain that the case studies on the different models operated in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and in the Scandinavian nations to be presented here, will be both valuable and informative. Hopefully, lessons can also be learned from the Arctic Council's model of co-operation and consultations. Just as the Arctic is now being regarded as an indicator region for global environmental change, it also has the potential to become an indicator region for reconciliation and co-operation among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

This way of working in consultation and co-operation with the indigenous peoples of the Arctic is a great asset, reinforcing the Arctic Council and deepening its approach to many of the different Arctic issues. It is an asset we must retain and develop as we proceed with our task of enhancing sustainable development in the Arctic region.

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