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Arctic 401: Indigenous Peoples in Arctic Governance

June 27, 2019


Andrew Chater

The class was “Indigenous Peoples in Arctic Governance” during the University of Washington’s spring 2019 term. The task was for students to complete a relatively short term paper that summarizes and discusses an Arctic issue relevant to Indigenous peoples. The end goal was to propose a way toward resolving the issue based on academic research. The format was open – some students opted for a policy brief, while others wrote more of an op-ed. As you can imagine, the range of topics is diverse – social problems, political puzzles, institutional issues, economic maladies and more. Some papers tackle broad issues affecting all Arctic residents. Others focus on specific peoples and geographic regions. Some offer tentative proposals as students tackle policy research for the first time. Others put forward bold and innovative suggestions that will surely elicit strong responses. One thing that every paper has in common is that they are provocative. Readers may not agree with every point, but they surely will take away some new insights.

Complimentary papers tackle the difficult topics of suicide in Arctic communities. Olivia Barrett points to the important relationship between cultural health and mental health, highlighting that the significance of traditional cultures goes deeper than the surface. Petr Dobeš lays out a multifaceted view of the problem by focusing on the Inuit, pointing to the importance of economic opportunity, strong mental health services in Arctic communities and collaboration by a plethora of actors.

Multiple papers emphasize the need to prepare for the maritime security issues of the future right now. John Downing makes a compelling case that search and rescue presents opportunities for the regional economy and local communities, if governments plan ahead now. Thomas Herrmann makes a proposal for Canada’s best course of action dealing with the Northwest Passage dispute that will no doubt stir some debate among many readers. Reiss Kauffman provides reasons to be optimistic about shipping regulations in the region, particularly the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code. Sarah Rhee makes the opposite argument, stating that existing regulation is inadequate. Bridget Ovall convincingly argues that a proactive system to deal with Arctic oil spill is an urgent need. Vanessa Wong makes a provocative argument for the merits of geoengineering to resolve the Arctic environmental crisis.

More than one student highlights the urgent need for infrastructure in the Arctic region. Ann Carr makes a bold proposal for a new infrastructure working group at the Arctic Council, as well as a case for a new advocacy organization devoted solely to infrastructure. Sason Hayashi debates internet connectivity, which she acknowledges offers significant advantages. Both papers discuss the importance of community voices in the process, which Sydney Leek discuses in depth by arguing that community-based participant research should be the standard for Arctic research.

The importance of Indigenous voices is a theme in many of the papers. Dawn Heaps writes passionately for Saami land rights. Eleanor Morgan makes a convincing case that the significance of climate change extends well beyond physical security, as it endangers cultural security, too. Celine Steinbach shows that the choice between resource development and environmental protection can be extremely difficult for Indigenous communities.

The class contained a mix of students, from freshmen to graduate students. Many in the class had little background on the Arctic before now. Some come from academic programs in which research essays are rare. A few had never written a university paper before. Ten weeks later, without exception, each completed a paper that shows merit, intelligence and critical thinking. These papers show what one can accomplish in a short period of time!