The Arctic's future is Indigenous
There are a lot of competing visions for the Arctic. Thoughtful governance of a developing region, added commerce (including for some more energy development), and a key expression of global climate policies.
"Iceland has consistently called for a peaceful and cooperative regime in the Arctic,” said Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.
Finland’s said his government’s first words are “climate change.” This is so, he said, because he does not want that phrase “to become the last word of humankind.”
US Energy Secretary Rick Perry sees the region as a promise for expanded energy development. He said "By any measure, the Arctic region is brimming with the incredible opportunity of economics and energy potential." And, to be clear about his view of that future, Perry concluded, that “tomorrow belongs to the North and the future belongs to the free.”
“Our country is centrally located between two of the World’s superpowers,” said Greenland’s Premier Kim Kielsen. “And this is a fact which we can’t ignore.
This represents another vision for the Arctic: Indigenous. It was a notion that was often acknowledged by most of the world leaders in their speeches to the Arctic Circle Assembly.
This week hundreds of leaders from governments, businesses, and nonprofits from some fifty countries met at the annual meeting on Arctic issues in Reykjavík, Iceland.
Greenland’s Kielsen spoke in kalaallisut.
Indigenous message one. And if that symbolic statement was not clear he followed up by making clear that his country’s future will be one determined by Greenland. “The Arctic and Greenland are two entities which are inherently inseparable,” he said. “The Greenlandic people live on the island. The Arctic is our home.”
Some 90 percent of the Greenlandic people are Inuit. Greenland is considered a part of Denmark with home rule, but a transfer to full sovereignty will occur at some point, whenever Greenland determines the next steps.
"We have always been of the conviction that our country should play a natural and central role on topics that concerns the Arctic, and when the Arctic is on the agenda, it has already been established that Greenland is an essential element of the decision-making process, and we will always participate to carry on with this responsibility," he said.
Kielsen’s message was that of an equal nation. He said, “I want to make it clear that in the cooperation among the Arctic nations, our country is a reliable, equal and responsible partner.”
Then he said the other nations are more interested in Greenland because of climate change.
“The effects of climate change have a direct impact on our everyday lives, to our way of life and to our culture,” he said. “Our environment is visibly changing. Sea ice is no longer a guarantee during winter time, the migration patterns of wildlife and fish, to which we depend, are changing, and it is increasingly difficult to predict the weather. Whenever we open fish and game that we catch from the sea, it becomes more frequent that we find plastic in their stomachs. What is worse however, is the fact that the animals now also contain microplastics which are invisible to the naked eye."
Kielsen said his government is increasing its clean energy development. “We must keep in mind that we have borrowed this planet from our descendants, and needless to say, they have been very vocal about this fact over the recent months,” he said.
Of course Kielsen had to address (more than once) President Donald Trump’s “offer” to buy Greenland. (Trump made the pitch to Denmark, however, not to the country’s authority.)
Still. “The offer to buy our country is a concept which is alien to us, and does not go in line with our culture.,” the prime minister said. “Our people have been able to roam freely in our country without limitations, we do not have a tradition in purchasing land, instead it is possible for the inhabitants to lease land in which houses can be built, since land is common property.”
Dalee Sambo Dorough, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, represents some 180,000 Inuit people in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia). She said the time has come for all governments to look to Indigenous knowledge and rights first.
“We hold rights to self-determination lands, territories and resources, hunting, fishing and harvesting rights,” she said. “The right to participate in all matters that directly affect us and the right to free prior and informed consent. We also have important responsibilities to uphold for future generations.”
She called on “governments across the globe, including Arctic States … to recognize and respect our individual and collective human rights.” She said the Inuit must be “the final arbiters” of what negotiations look like and what is determined to be a “win-win” negotiation.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports