Thursday May 25, 2017

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Of the Arctic, by the Arctic, for the Arctic

Editor’s Briefing | Two concurrent gatherings address the future the North and its residents in their own ways
The people of the neighbourhood

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People of the Arctic
According Arktinen Keskus/the Arctic Centre, a research institute in Rovaniemi, Finland, 10% of the Arctic’s population is indigenous. Percentages vary considerably, however: in Greenland, 80% of the population considers itself Inuit. As few as 4% of Russians affiliate with an indigenous group.

In all, there are some 40 indigenous groups, the largest among them being Buryat, Chukchi, Evenks, Inuit, Iñupiat, Khanty, Koryaks, Nenets, Saami, Yukaghir and Yupik.

Another way to define indigenous groups is according to their representation on the Arctic Council: here six groups speaking for indigenous peoples are considered permanent participants, and are included on a near equal footing with the eight states that constitute the full-fledged members. Allowing indigenous groups to speak on their own behalf in an international forum and to contribute in a meaningful way is said to be unique for the Arctic Council.

If a country were to hold a conference focusing on ‘people and the Arctic’, the theme of this year’s Territory of Dialogue, currently being held in Archangelsk, it would make sense that it was Russia. Of the estimated four million people living in the region, half are Russian.

The Russian Arctic also grapples with many of the issues facing the region, including the pressures of resource development on residents, the effects of climate change and a declining population. Murmansk, Russia’s second largest city in the region, has fallen from about 470,000 inhabitants in 1989 to under 300,000 today. The population of Archangelsk, the largest city, has also declined, though somewhat less steeply.

How well Territory of Dialogue will do in addressing these issues remains to be seen: most of the attention on the first day went to issues that consume people in national capitals, but may seem somewhat far removed from the region's residents.

SEE RELATED: Seen, but not listened to

Knowing this was likely to be the case may explain why the ICC, an Inuit group that draws membership from Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland, chose to hold a gathering of its own at the same time as the Kremlin’s conference.

The three-day meeting, which convened in Anchorage on Tuesday, lacks the political drama of the event in Archangelsk – there are no premiers or foreign ministers* at the invite-only session – but its message, ‘We set the agenda for our future’, is far more direct, however.

The goal of the meeting, according to organisers, is to look at the region’s economic development and how it will affect members of the Inuit community.

“There is a big focus on the climate right now, but we can’t forget the human aspect or the economic opportunities,” Hjalmar Dahl, the president of ICC Greenland, told Sermitsiaq.AG, our sister website, ahead of the meeting.

SEE RELATED: Future of Arctic not as smooth as it appears

Both the Kremlin and the ICC have held similar meetings in the past. Increasing economic interest in the region – in things like mining, oil and gas exploration, fishing, shipping, tourism, and, for the better connected regions, data hosting – suggests more meetings of the sort being held in Archangelsk as well as in Anchorage are likely.

Both will surely include ‘people’ and ‘Arctic’ somewhere in their titles. Those who live in the Arctic will hope for more that connect the two with ‘of’, and fewer with ‘and’.

*Correction: it has been pointed out to us that Vittus Qujaukitsoq, Greenland’s foreign minister, is attending.