Thursday April 27, 2017

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Two-class society

“The majority of people in the North aren’t represented on the Arctic Council”

Former Yukon premier Tony Penikett suggests there may be a better alternative for Northerners looking for a place to discuss regional issues

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Indigenous representation
The permanent participants of the Arctic Council are:

- the Aleut International Association
- the Arctic Athabaskan Council
- the Gwich’in Council International
- the Inuit Circumpolar Council
- the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North
- the Saami Council

More information about the role of permanent participants is available on the Arctic Council website

When the Arctic Council was established in 1996, permanent participation was granted to organisations representing indigenous peoples with majority Arctic indigenous constituency.

However, non-indigenous peoples were not – and still are not – properly represented on the council, argues to Tony Penikett (above, at centre), who served as premier of Yukon between 1985 and 1992. Speaking with High North News during the 2016 High North Dialogue, held in Bodø, Norway, in May, he discussed the need to address this lack of representation.

“The majority of people in the Far North are not represented on the Arctic Council. This is a design fault in the council’s very own setup,” he said. “As a matter of fact, settlers that have inhabited Arctic territories for more than four or five generations are perceived as second-class Arctic citizens and still lack proper representation in the regional governance structures.”

SEE RELATED: Talking about tomorrow’s Arctic

Strengthening regional representation of non-indigenous peoples, Mr Penikett suggests, could be achieved by placing more emphasis on a revamped Northern Forum, which includes representation from 24 sub-national Arctic governments.

“It could become a central forum that builds on the existing Northern Forum and enhances the debate between Northern regions and its citizens,” he said. “Such advancement would demonstrate the real power structures in the Arctic as not national governments (as represented in the Arctic Council, ed) hold Arctic agency, but regional governments.”

A similar proposal was put forward last year by Rune Rafaelsen, the mayor of Sør Varanger council, in northern Norway. Mr Rafaelsen argued at the time that the the voices of those inhabiting the Arctic were missing from the Arctic Council.

National governments located in capitals far away from the Arctic region tend to maintain that regional concerns and interests are adequately represented through the national seats in the Arctic Council.

SEE RELATED: Power for the North

One challenge to greater incorporation of non-state governments in Arctic decision-making is the variety in the way territories are governed.

Greenland, for example, is a self-governing country. Alaska, a US state, is in a similar position. The Arctic territory of Finland, Norway and Sweden, on the other hand, is governed at the county-level, which makes them more dependent on the national administration.

This article was originally published by High North News.

Photo: High North Dialogue