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Another milestone for Arctic Indigenous internationalism: The launch of the Álgu Fund

May 22, 2017


Jay-Kwon Park

Representatives from the Permanent Participants at the launch of the Álgu Fund at the Arctic Council’s Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, May 10, 2017.
Representatives from the Permanent Participants at the launch of the Álgu Fund at the Arctic Council’s Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, May 10, 2017. From left to right, Sam Alexander, Gwich’in Council International; Chief Gary Harrison, Arctic Athabaskan Council; Vladimir Klijmov, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North; Ethel Blake, Gwich’in Council International; Ellen Inga Turi, Saami Council; and Jim Gamble, Aleut International Association. (Photo credit: Katie Aspen Gavenus.)
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Our goal is to build the Álgu Fund’s endowment to providing stable, predictable, and reliable funding to our organizations.” – Jim Gamble

On May 10, 2017, during the Week of the Arctic event in Fairbanks, Alaska, the formal documents to create the Álgu Fund were signed by the five Permanent Participants (the Arctic Indigenous organizations that serve on the Arctic Council). The Álgu Fund is a charitable organization that will provide financial support for the Permanent Participants in Arctic affairs. Jim Gamble, Director of the Aleut International Association (AIA) and the inaugural Chair of the Álgu Fund, has been working with other Permanent Participants to establish the fund since 2013. Since the founding of the Arctic Council in 1996, funding has always been a barrier to Permanent Participant participation on the Arctic Council. When Rodion Sulyandziga, the first Vice-President of Russian Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), was asked a question about the Permanent Participants in the Permanent Participant Article Series in 2016, he said, “the progress for funding is still poor.” The need for establishing a funding mechanism for the Permanent Participants has been raised at every Ministerial Declaration since 1998. However, no significant change has been made, until now.

Unlike many other intergovernmental forums, the Arctic Council has its own unique governance structure: it accepted six Arctic Indigenous groups as a core part of the Arctic Council by giving them a unique status as Permanent Participants, a status that assures that Indigenous groups have full consultation rights in the Arctic Council’s negotiations but no voting rights in decision making. Although the Indigenous groups were granted this important role in the Arctic Council, they were never free from financial pressures involved in their role because, unlike the eight Member States and the thirteen non-Arctic Observer States in the Arctic Council, which can financially support themselves, the Permanent Participants are non-state actors that depend heavily on the small funding that is provided to the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples Secretariat (IPS) by the Arctic Council. Without sufficient funding capacity, the Permanent Participants are unable to exercise their full participation on the Arctic Council. For example, although the United States provides travel funding to the AIA to make sure that representatives of the organization attend important meetings, there have been many instances when other Permanent Participants were not able to attend important meetings because they did not have sufficient travel funding.

The Álgu Fund will enable the Permanent Participants to actively engage in important decision making, express their interests, and provide their Indigenous knowledge for the betterment of the Arctic community. On top of raising funds to participate important events, the Álgu Fund also aims to promote cross-border cooperation amongst the Permanent Participants, support local projects and initiatives driven by the Permanent Participants, and educate the next generation of leaders. The plan is to approach potential donors including the non-Arctic Observer States and organizations, charitable organizations, governments, and businesses to work on various projects that would not only benefit the Permanent Participants but also satisfy the needs of its donors. So far, five out of six Permanent Participants – Saami Council, RAIPON, Gwich’in Council International, Arctic Athabaskan Council, and the AIA – have signed the documents to create the fund with the expectation that the Inuit Circumpolar Council will sign on at a later date.

At the official launch of the Álgu Fund, the organization set a fundraising goal of $30 million to capitalize on the endowment. As it receives more attention, the Álgu Fund will grow and become a milestone for the Permanent Participants in achieving the overall theme of the “One Arctic.” Although it is in its infancy, the fund has the potential to become the main support system for the Permanent Participants. In the short term, it will be interesting to watch the Álgu Fund grow; and in the longer term, it will be interesting to see how the fund will increase the influence of Indigenous peoples in Arctic affairs.

This publication is part of the blog series, “Arctic Foreign Policy Field Experience: Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings 2017.” View the introductory article and the listing of the 14 blogs that make up this series.

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.