EU discusses need for involving Arctic indigenous communities

At the “New Chances and New Responsibilities in the Arctic Region” conference currently underway in Berlin, the European Commission’s representative for Fisheries and Maritime Opportunities outlined the EU’s objectives in the Arctic. In his speech (transcript here, in English), entitled “Opportunities and responsibilities in the Arctic Region: the European Union’s perspective,” Joe Borg reiterated the three key points of the EU’s Arctic strategy, which were originally described in the EU’s Arctic Communication last December:

  1. Protecting and preserving the Arctic together with its population
  2. Promoting the sustainable use of resources
  3. Enhancing multilateral governance in the region

The first point he makes naturally concerns climate change. The international community has, for the most part, come to the consensus that global warming is a problem which requires multilateral solutions. The need to work with a wide variety of actors, including other states, international organizations, and NGOs towards sustainable development in the Arctic has been expressed by many countries, so the ideas Mr. Borg discusses are not anything novel.

On the other hand, the other main point of the first proposition involves indigenous issues — a controversial subject that policy-makers and journalists alike have oven overlooked in favor of a focus on topics such as petroleum deposits, which interest governments, or drowning polar bears, which sell newspapers. Even the Arctic conference in Berlin initially received flak for failing to invite any Inuit representatives.

As a result, the conference invited Aqqaluk Lynge from the Inuit Circumpolar Council. He was also the only Inuit representative to speak at a Danish summit on the Arctic last summer, and has stated that the Inuit people “live on the front lines of globalization.” The negative consequences brought about by modernity – global warming, polluting, and overfishing, to name a few – are acutely felt in the North.

In an editorial in The Independent from 2007, Lynge compared the situation of his people to the rest of the world, he stated, “You go to the supermarket, we go on the sea-ice. When we can no longer hunt on the sea-ice, we will no longer exist as a people.”  So what can be said for polar bears nearing extinction also applies to the traditional lifestyle of the Arctic’s indigenous people.

The EU representative Mr. Borg shed more light on this situation, saying:

Let us not forget that there are more than 4 million people living north of the Polar Circle. It is they who are most concerned and who have a direct stake in the outcomes of our action. Broad consultation of which they form an integral part must be a guiding principle for any action taken.

It seems that the international community is slowly coming to the realization that it cannot only deal with the main recognized actors – the UN and UNCLOS, the Artic-5, and NATO, for instance – in attempting to solve the problems of the Arctic. The EU talks a lot about the need for reliable scientific data on the Arctic – but it also seems to realize the utility of consulting the people who witness firsthand, and can thus give a human face, to the changes occurring in the High North.

Inuit whaler. © Greenland.com
Inuit whaler. © Greenland.com

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