Indigenous Peoples put Arctic Council on alert as Canada becomes new chair

Feature story - May 13, 2013
On the eve of the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, where Canada will take the chair of the Council, a pan-Arctic Indigenous conference has generated 15 new signatories to a joint statement in opposition to Arctic drilling, which now includes major Indigenous organizations from every Arctic state, including the Arctic Athabaskan Council which has permanent participant status on the Arctic Council.

Kiera Kolson, Arctic Outreach Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. © Christian Aslund/Greenpeace

Approximately 80 people from seven Arctic states attended “The Peoples’ Arctic: Unified for a Better Tomorrow”, in Kiruna, Sweden. It was the second such conference hosted by the Save the Pechora Committee and Greenpeace, meant to connect Indigenous communities from around the Arctic and foster better relationships between Indigenous Peoples and environmental groups.

The People's Arctic conference © Christian Aslund/Greenpeace

The move demonstrates the growing opposition to Arctic oil drilling amongst the Indigenous communities who will be most affected by the industrialization of their territories and would feel the first impacts of an oil spill.

"This conference is an indication of where the world is going,” said Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief and International Vice Chair of the Arctic Athabaskan Council attending the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna. “People are worried about the land, regardless of their backgrounds or professions, and people are getting together because of their concern.” Erasmus said he plans to take this message to the Arctic Council Foreign Minister’s meeting on Wednesday May 15.

The Joint Statement of Indigenous Solidarity for Arctic Protection was drafted last August at the first Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ conference, held in Usinsk, Russia. Twenty-two Russian Indigenous representatives and organizations signed on to the declaration, including RAIPON, a permanent participant on the Arctic Council, as well as an Inuit hunter from Greenland and an organization from Nigeria. In the months following the conference, the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum have joined as signatories.

The People's Arctic conference © Christian Aslund/Greenpeace

Following two days of presentations on a variety of topics such as the impact of resource extraction and climate change on Indigenous communities, 15 more groups and individuals signed on to the statement, including the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Dene Nation, the Assembly of First Nations in the Northwest Territories, the Youth Council of Sami Parliament in Sweden, Avataq (the environmental organisation in Greenland), The Indigenous Peoples Secretariat, the mayor of one Alaskan city and several other Indigenous organisations. A full list of signatories and the statement is here.

 “With this declaration, the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic are sending a very clear signal to the Arctic Council to protect the Arctic against dirty oil business, but instead the Council is using its power to issue a toothless oil spill response agreement that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on”, said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, who attended the conference. “The Arctic Council needs to stop wasting time and resources on useless documents that do nothing to hold government or industry accountable, go back to its initial mandate of Arctic protection and listen to the original inhabitants of this land."

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