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Indigenous Influence in Arctic Affairs, June 2017

October 2, 2016

In June 2, 2017, fifteen UW graduate students took part in a weekly symposium titled, “Arctic Indigenous Internationalism.” They discussed the history of this global movement, the United Nations as a legal mechanism for ensuring self-determination, analyzed sub-national Indigenous regions, and participated in a field experience to the Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings in Fairbanks, Alaska. These students – International Policy Institute Arctic Fellows – interviewed key leaders in Arctic affairs on issues related to the Arctic with international relevance. The goal of this symposium is to bridge the gap between academia and the needs of policy makers as they relate to a better understanding of how Indigenous peoples are influencing Arctic affairs and what this means for international relations today.

This project was co-sponsored by the International Policy Institute in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies (the Jackson School) with funding from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The project was chaired by the Canadian Studies Center in the Jackson School as part of a joint initiative – Arctic and International Relations – with four other US Department of Education Title VI Centers: The Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies; the East Asia Center; the Center for Global Studies; and the Center for West European Studies.

Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland): A Conversation with Inuuteq Holm Olsen
Interview with Inuuteq Holm Olsen, Head of Representation, Greenland Representation, Washington, D.C. with Valerie Cleland, MA, Marine and Environmental Affairs, Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow, Inuktitut, Canadian Studies Center, JSIS, 2017-18

While 85% of Greenland is covered by a permanent ice sheet, this is not a barren country. With a population of 60,000, 90% of those who call Greenland home are Indigenous people. Due to Greenland’s strategic location in the Arctic, both Denmark and Norway have, over the years, asserted sovereignty in Greenland to strengthen trading and sea power. Today, Greenland is making strides towards independence, which could make it the first independent Indigenous nation.

Greenland has been under differing degrees of Danish colonial rule since 1721. It wasn’t until 1953 that Greenland’s colonial status was officially lifted. Yet, at the same time, Denmark increased its power over Greenland. Denmark worked to implement Danish institutions and increase monetary support, and thus impose a larger degree of control, all in the name of “bettering” Greenland. Denmark also worked to culturally assimilate Indigenous people by requiring Greenlanders to learn Danish and go to Denmark for any post-secondary education. Comparable to the United States’ attempts to assimilate its Indigenous people, many Greenlandic children went to Danish boarding schools and lost touch with their subsistence lifestyles and culture.

In 1979, the Greenland Home Rule Act, the first move towards autonomy, passed. Home Rule for Greenland meant that the Greenlandic Parliament, not the Danish Parliament, would be responsible for the departments that had formerly been under the control of Demark. Greenland gained control of education, economic, and domestic policy. This, however, did not fully remove Danish control. Thirty years later, Greenland voted in favor of the Self-Governance Act.

Approved by Denmark in 2009, the Self-Governance Act will gradually transfer power back to the Greenlandic people. Under the new self-governance regime, Greenlandic has now replaced Danish as the sole official language, and Greenland has gained greater control over its natural resources. In addition, the Greenlandic people are officially recognized as a separate people under international law, which is highly important for the people of Greenland. There is now a path towards true independence, should Greenland vote to go that direction. Although not everyone agrees that this is the best path forward for the people of Greenland, this is a significant victory for those vying for independence. Denmark continues to represent Greenland on the Arctic Council. In 2013, Greenland protested the Arctic Council, stating they wanted voting power and a seat at the table rather than being represented by Denmark.

Today, Greenland’s economy relies almost entirely on fishing, which accounts for 90% of exports. Beyond riches in fish and shrimp, Greenland is abundant in minerals, and exploiting these resources is an option for the future. Greenland continues to be geopolitically attractive, and hence Denmark is reluctant to give up the island. Likewise, U.S. interest in Greenland has also not faded for the same reasons. Internally, Greenland is simultaneously balancing its traditions and focusing on modernizing.

Inuuteq Holm Olsen is the first Greenlandic representative at the Embassy of Denmark to the United States. Since 2014, Holm Olsen has been representing Greenland’s interests in the United States. He sees opportunity for collaboration with the United States in development and business. Holm Olsen is also the Greenlandic representative to Canada as of 2016, and he represents an international interest in Greenland beyond relations with Denmark. This type of representation, in which Greenland is independent of Denmark, indicates a rise of Arctic Indigenous internationalism. With Greenland beginning to amplify its voice in the international arena, Greenland’s internal politics may shape the Arctic and the role of its Indigenous peoples.

Aleut International Association
Interview with Jim Gamble, President, Aleut International Association with Ian Scott Hanna, MA, Marine and Environmental Affairs, Jay-Kwon Park, MA student, International Studies, JSIS, and David Rivera, MA, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs

In 1996 the Arctic Council was the first international forum to give Indigenous people a permanent voice in governance by including three Indigenous groups in their founding document, “to provide for active participation and full consultation with the Arctic Indigenous representatives.” Two years later, the Aleut International Association (AIA) was added to the Arctic Council as Permanent Participant. The AIA was established by the Aleutian/ Pribilof Islands Alaska Native Association and the Association of Peoples of the North of the Aleut District of the Kamchatka Region of the Russian Federation to ensure that the Aleut voice was heard in international fora such as the Arctic Council. United by issues such as resources in the Bering Sea, transboundary containments, climate change, and changes to commercial fisheries, the Aleut people, through the AIA, are an important voice for ocean governance and international cooperation.

The AIA is currently led by executive director Mr. James Gamble. He is active on the Arctic Council’s Arctic Contaminants Action Program, Sustainable Development Working Group, Protection of Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group and is the Chairman of the Board for the newly launch Álgu Fund, which will help fund Indigenous groups’ participation in Arctic Council activities.

Promoting Community-Based Monitoring
The Aleut way of life, like all Indigenous peoples of the North, is inextricably bound to the environment. The AIA addresses emerging environmental issues from increased commerce and climate change as well as cultural issues. The organization has developed programs that focus on pollution (black carbon) monitoring, communicating environmental observations about ice conditions, and marine subsistence use mapping, all of which are based on strong community-based participation. While scientific monitoring and research in the Arctic are increasing, a severe lack of funding impedes real progress in remedying many of the issues that Arctic communities face, particularly as human activity is also significantly increasing in the region. Accordingly, the AIA is taking a more assertive approach in collecting data and information that can help shape policy that has the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The AIA’s work within communities is interesting for several reasons. First, these community-based projects are relatively new and could serve as a model to other remote regions that are dealing with similar issues. Second, community-based data can include not only scientific information but also traditional knowledge, which can have a significant impact on policy making and increase the resilience of the community, despite the fact that it may not hold up as strong “scientific data.” Finally, the data and information collected can help the maritime sector by filling in knowledge gaps, and can then be applied to maritime safety and policy making.

Forging New International Partnerships
Moreover, the AIA is forging new partnerships through their community-based monitoring projects. To increase their influence, Permanent Participants and non-Arctic Observers endeavor to be involved in many different projects within the Arctic Council. Recognizing an opportunity for further collaboration, the AIA has taken the initiative to form a partnership with the Korea Maritime Institute (KMI), specifically working with them on the Arctic Marine Indigenous Use Mapping Project. The goal of the project is to document Indigenous people’s use of the ocean and land on maps that will have the potential to inform decision makers and improve governance. This project is also significant because it is the first co-op project directly between an Observer state and a Permanent Participant.

For the AIA, the KMI not only funds a portion of the project, but it also provides digitized mapping technology. In return, the KMI gains the opportunity to test its assets on a local, community level while creating a positive national image within the Arctic Council as it supports the Permanent Participants and produces useful data for improved decision making.

The AIA is projecting the Aleut voice to the international arena. Their groundbreaking work with community-based monitoring systems and creation of new partnerships is a hugely important part of that voice.

Borderline Intersections: Social Landscapes of Contemporary Sami Identity
Interview with Troy Storfjell, Department of Languages and Literatures, Pacific Lutheran University, with Michael Brown, MA student, International Studies, JSIS and Lucy Kruesel, MA student, Education

The Sami are an Indigenous people, residing in an area known as Sápmi, which spans the borders between the northernmost territory of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Traditionally, the Sami pursued livelihoods in coastal fishing villages and interior forest, and in nomadic reindeer husbandry. Having existed in Sápmi for 10,000 or more years, the Sami have had more or less equanimous relations with more southerly Scandinavians until the beginnings of the modern period, when northward-moving Swedes, Norwegians, and Finns expanded into their traditional lands. What followed was a period of colonization similar to that seen in North America. Aggressive assimilation, the taking of territory, and the expansion of the state into Sápmi characterized this period from the 1500s and on. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this period of colonial expansion took on an even more racialized character as the state conducted forced eugenic research on Sami communities.

Today, the Sami are composed of a geographically broad community of upwards of 50,000 people. Salient issues include land rights, decolonization, and cultural safeguarding. Mining, the expansion of windmill farms, tourism, and other industries encroach on traditional reindeer herding routes. Furthermore, the Sami are, even in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia, relatively unknown, and assimilation has taken its toll, with many people simply unaware of their Sami roots. Part of the decolonization effort is aimed at reclaiming pride and awareness of Sami heritage. These efforts have resulted in tensions with Nordic governments, which have so far limited their protections of Sami rights to consultation clauses and obscure approaches toward cultural protection. Looking globally to solidarity movements, which provide scaffolding and support for Sami efforts, has provided more traction than domestic affairs. For instance, of the Sami host nations, Norway is the only participant in the International Labor Organization Convention 169, a major international binding convention on Indigenous peoples.

The Sami are thus early adopters of Indigenous internationalism, having participated in Arctic leadership summits with other prominent Indigenous groups such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON). This early effort at international engagement has made the Sami one of the most prominent Indigenous groups, but has so far done little to advance their cause domestically. Rauna Kuokkanen, a Sami author and researcher, has identified tensions in the Sami community between those who feel satisfied with their position vis-à-vis the nation-state, and those activists who feel their essential needs are not met. Although the UN has been a place for Indigenous peoples to network and was truly the first space where they could advocate for their own interests, the UN’s focus on human rights policy suggests that all those involved in human rights issues are in solidarity. Fundamentally, this conflicted relationship between the Sami and the state, in addition to their efforts to reach out internationally, is a colonial legacy. The Sami are approaching rectification of colonial injustices from multiple perspectives. We reached out to three people within the Sami community who work on decolonizing the voices and representations of the Sami.

Across national borderlines, programs that prioritize Indigenous studies are growing in breadth and depth. One such program is led by Troy Storfjell. who practices decolonization at Pacific Lutheran University. Storfjell critiques colonist-settler ideologies and systems primarily through literature, while also producing Indigenous knowledge within his role as professor and department head of Norwegian and Scandinavian Studies at PLU. Although he has lived much of his life in the United States, his perspectives and attitudes towards the politics of the academy are uniquely Sami. Storfjell works to transform representations of the Sami in his examination of the power relations that inform and maintain narratives in Sami literature. In an attempt to Indigenize and decolonize, Storfjell’s studies emphasize how ethnic classification extrapolates knowledge and enables assimilation within the academy.

Troy Storfjell is Associate Professor of Nordic Studies at Pacific Lutheran University, teaching in the Department of Languages and Literatures. Encouraging critical reading habits with his students, an emphasis on literature and cultural studies allows him to explore the aesthetics and ethics of colonization and resistance settler-colonial and Indigenous texts, drawing on Sámi and trans-Indigenous critical perspectives. A dual citizen of Norway and the United States, Storfjell is situated between academic worlds of Sami knowledge and Western knowledge, focusing on Indigenous philosophical and intellectual traditions. In the throes of launching a Native American and Indigenous Studies program at Pacific Lutheran University, he has also been a guest researcher in the Department of Culture and Literature at University of Tromsø (Norway). His own identity has colored his understandings of working within various types of academia and a need for amplified Sami voice in his institution.

Self-Determination in Nunavut (Our Land): A Conversation with Paul Okalik
Interview with Paul Okalik, Legislative Assembly of Nunavut for Iqaluit-Sinaa and former premier of Nunavut with Malina Dumas, JD student, Law; Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow, Inuktitut, Canadian Studies Center, JSIS, 2016-17 and 2017-18, and Katie Aspen Gavenus, MA student, Education; Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow, Canadian Studies Center, JSIS, Inuktitut, 2016-17 and 2017-18

Paul Okalik is an Inuk attorney and Canadian politician who was involved in negotiating the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which represents the largest land claim between an Indigenous people and nation-state. Inuit leaders in the northeastern Northwest Territories began the push for recognition by the Canadian government nearly four decades ago. The land claims agreement was finalized in 1993 and the territory of Nunavut, “Our Land” in Inuktitut, was formed in 1999, with Okalik elected to serve at the helm as Premier. His work was only just beginning. As he remarked at the 2006 Tribal Sovereignty Symposium, “The completion of negotiation for our agreement was the culmination of a dream. It was also the dawn of a new day where Nunavummiut would have to shoulder much of the load in making the dream a reality.”

Self-Governance in Nunavut
The Government of Nunavut, the Government of Canada, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. are currently in the process of negotiating a devolution agreement that will transfer control over Nunavut’s public lands and resources from the federal government to the local level. The viability of a province-like status for northern Canadian territories was debated for years, and Paul Okalik was a staunch advocate for devolution during his term as Premier of Nunavut. While the Yukon and Northwest Territories signed their final devolution agreements in 2003 and 2013, respectively, Nunavut has faced many challenges, including the Crown’s resistance to losing control over Nunavut’s adjacent marine areas. As Okalik has noted, the devolution process is a critical step in reclaiming the right to self-governance in a manner that is consistent with Inuit culture, which is closely tied to relationships with land and water. Furthermore, devolution will help build a nation-to-nation relationship within Canada that will reflect key principles from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and increase the security of the region.

Local Control of Education in Nunavut
Intertwined with the work he is doing towards self-governance, Okalik has been a staunch supporter of efforts to revitalize and improve education in Nunavut, mirroring the push for local control of schools seen throughout Indigenous communities of Canada, Alaska, and elsewhere in the Arctic. During his time as Premier of Nunavut, he was instrumental in bringing both the Nunavut Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act to fruition in 2008. Together, these acts promised access for all Nunavut students to schooling in Inuktitut, initially for students in kindergarten through grade three and slowly expanding through grade twelve in the decade that followed, though the latter part of this vision has proven difficult to achieve. In addition, the Nunavut Education Act is helping to re-envision a school system that is built upon Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, the knowledge system and social code developed by Inuit over generations of thriving in a unique place. Okalik has also focused on community healing centers, early childhood education and daycare, as well as crucial training programs for professions such as nurses, teachers, and lawyers.

Alongside the Government of Nunavut, Okalik continues to work towards creating governance and education systems that reflect the needs, opportunities, challenges, and strengths of Nunavummiut (the people of Nunavut) that will allow people to take a larger role in the move towards self-determination.

Indigenous Governance in Québec: An Interview with Jean-François Arteau
Interview with Jean-François Arteau with Amy Delo, MA, International Studies, JSIS; Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow, French, Canadian Studies Center, JSIS, 2016-17 and 2017-18 and Rachel Freeman, MA student, Marine and Environmental Affairs; Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow, French, Canadian Studies Center, JSIS, 2016-17

The Makavik Corporation is the legal and financial institution that represents the Inuit of Northern Québec. It was established in 1978 as a part of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA), a land claims agreement negotiated between the government of Québec and the Indigenous peoples of Northern Québec. It was the first and largest land claims agreement of its kind in Canada, setting the stage for other Indigenous peoples in Canada to advocate for their rights and to receive a measure of self-determination. The Inuit name for the northernmost third of Québec is Nunavik and the people who live there, Nunavimmiut. The Nunavimmiut were awarded $225 million in the settlement, and the Makivik Corporation was created to manage these funds. The JBNQA also established the Kativik Regional Government to administer the region.

The governance structure of the Nunavik region has continued to evolve since the establishment of the JBQNA, expanding beyond the traditional dominance of federal, provincial, and territorial government actors to include non-state and quasi-state actors (Wilson, 2017) like the Makivik Corporation and local Inuit leaders. Referred to in academic literature as multilevel governance, the diversification of political actors in governance representing the Inuit reaches beyond the domestic politics of self-government and representation and into the international arena (Wilson 2017, 3). For example, in 2015 the Government of Québec relaunched Plan Nord, an economic development strategy centered around natural resource extraction in the region of Québec that lies north of the 49th parallel. In response to Plan Nord, the Nunavik Inuit produced the Parnasimautik Consultation Report, which highlights the non-negotiable conditions necessary for Inuit support of the plan. This report demands that the government make the improvement of Inuit lives and communities a key priority amid its developmental goals and highlights major concerns like housing and infrastructure. In response, the Québec government restructured its developmental goals for the region in an effort to address Inuit concerns and priorities. While the level of Inuit inclusion within the revised Plan Nord remains contentious, the Parnasimautik Consultation Report’s influential role in reshaping Plan Nord serves as one of the many ways in which multilevel governance in Nunavik has impacted and inspired the growth of Indigenous leadership internationally.

Jean-Francois Arteau is a founder and partner at the firm Kesserwan & Arteau, based in Québec City. As both a lawyer in Aboriginal law and an international expert on Arctic issues, Mr. Arteau’s accomplishments and contributions to the field are numerous. He has acted as the Assistant Director General and Director of the Legal Department of the Kativik Regional Government, as well as the Legal Advisor and Executive Assistant to the President of the Makivik Corporation, under Pita Aatami.

Building on his experience in policy development at both the international and Inuit community level, Mr. Arteau went on to serve as the Vice-President to Housing Development with the Québec Housing Corporation and later Special Advisor to the Associate Secretary General of the Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat of the Government of Québec. His other accomplishments include his role as Chief Negotiator for the Sanarrutik Agreement and Assistant Chief Negotiator for the creation of a Nunavik Regional Government, which inspired several Québec Indigenous groups to pursue self-determination. He has spoken about his work with the Inuit of Nunavik at prestigious universities and organizations around the world, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the Canadian Embassy in Paris, and the United Nations. He has also collaborated closely with the Henry Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington in scholarly work pertaining to the Arctic.

With his first-hand knowledge of the Kativik Regional Government and the Makivik Corporation, Mr. Arteau is exceptionally qualified to speak about the impact of governmental policies on Arctic communities in Northern Québec.


Wilson, Gary N. “Nunavik and the Multiple Dimensions of Inuit Governance.” American Review of Canadian Studies (2017): 1–14.

From Moscow to Maine: A Conversation with Pavel Vasilievich Sulyandziga
Interview (in Russian) with Pavel Vasilievich Sulyandziga, Chair of the Board, Batani Foundation and Member of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights with Brandon Ray, MA student, International Studies, JSIS and Marine and Environmental Affairs; Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow, Russian, Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, JSIS, 2016-17 and 2017-18 and Elena Campbell, Associate Professor, Department of History

Of all the Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) is arguably the most unique. Permanent Participant membership is open to “Arctic organizations of indigenous peoples with majority Arctic indigenous constituency, representing: (a) a single indigenous people resident in more than one Arctic State; or (b) more than one Arctic indigenous people resident in a single Arctic state” (Arctic Council 1996). RAIPON is the only organization in the Arctic Council that meets the latter of these categories. This can be beneficial, as the organization does not have to navigate transnational policy differences.

However, this has mostly proven detrimental for Russian indigenous peoples, as they are only subject to Russian law, which has not been supportive of indigenous identities over the years. The first law regarding Russian indigenous peoples was the 1822 Statute of Alien (“inorodtsy”) Administration in Siberia, which categorized the indigenous peoples into three categories: settlers, nomads, and foragers, each with different privileges that attempted to push cultural progression (Slezkine 1994). This policy of relative non-interference is largely contrasted with Soviet era policies, which pushed for collectivization and Sovietization of the population—with attempts to “conquer,” “colonize,” and “assimilate” “those people over there” (Josephson 2014, 59). In the post-Soviet era, policies have largely reverted to non-interference, with only three federal laws regarding rights for Russian indigenous peoples, which assert that Russian treatment of indigenous peoples will be consistent with international law (Wessendorf and IWGIA 2005). This becomes problematic, as Russia has adopted neither the International Labor Organization Convention No. 169 nor the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While attempts have been made by the international indigenous community to help Russian indigenous peoples to fight for their rights (Wessendorf and IWGIA 2005; Faegteborg 2005), progress has been extremely slow.

Furthermore, the colonial legacy of the Soviet era has led to modern environmental degradation and the extreme disadvantage of indigenous peoples to advocate for themselves with natural resource extraction companies. In the Primorskii Krai (near the Amur River), a Russian-Korean corporation Svetlaia, with the concurrence of the local government, began demolishing forests along the Bikin River, despite the protests of scientists and local indigenous peoples (Pika and Grant 1999). This issue brought Pavel Sulyandziga from his life as a math teacher in his Udege village to the realm of international indigenous politics. Sulyandziga was one of the creators of RAIPON, established the Batani Development Fund for indigenous peoples in 2004, and serves as Deputy Chair for the United Nations working group on human rights, transnational corporations, and other types of business (Meduza 2017; Yabloko 2017). However, the Batani Fund was labeled as a “foreign agent” in 2016 (Vatan 2016), another attempt to derecognize non-governmental organizations, akin to when RAIPON was temporarily disbanded by the government in 2012. Government harassment forced Sulyandziga to flee Russia for asylum in the United States. He and his family currently live in Maine (Doyle 2017).


Arctic Council. 1996. Declaration on the Establishment of the Arctic Council. Joint communiqué of the governments of the Arctic countries on the establishment of the Arctic Council, September 19. Ottawa, ON. Accessed at

Doyle, Megan. 2017. “Maine’s a Haven for Asylum Seeker from Russia.” Portland Press Herald, April 17. Accessed at

Faegteborg, Mads. 2005. Reflections on the Arctic Leaders’ Summit Process. Stubbekøbing, Denmark: Arctic Information.

Josephson, Paul R. 2014. The Conquest of the Russian Arctic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Meduza. (2017 May 3). “Защитник коренных народов Севера попросил убежища в США” (The defender of indigenous peoples of the North asked for asylum in the US). Accessed at

Pika, Aleksandr, and Bruce Grant, eds. 1999. Neotraditionalism in the Russian North: Indigenous Peoples and the Legacy of Perestroika. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Circumpolar Institute; Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Slezkine, Yuri. 1994. Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Smith, Eric A., and Joan McCarter, eds. 1997. Contested Arctic: Indigenous Peoples, Industrial States, and the Circumpolar Environment. Seattle: Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies Center at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies in association with University of Washington Press.

Vatan, Ivan. 2016. “Приморский «яблочник» Суляндзига: из ООН в Госдуму на деньги Госдепа” (Primorsky Yabloko member Sulyandziga: From the UN to the Duma for State Department money). PolitExpert, August 2. Accessed at

Wessendorf, Kathrin, ed., and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), issuing body. 2005. An Indigenous Parliament? Realities and Perspectives in Russia and the Circumpolar North (IWGIA document 116). Copenhagen: IWGIA.

Yabloko. 2017. “Federal Security Service Forced a Defender of the Indigenous Small Numbered Peoples to Flee form [sic] Russia.” May 2. Accessed at