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Foreign policy field experience: Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings 2017

May 18, 2017


Nadine Fabbi

Arctic Foreign Policy field experience group
Ambassador David Balton (center), Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries in the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, and Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, and Roberta Burns (to his left), Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council and U.S. Foreign Service Officer, with IPI Arctic Fellows. From left, Sita Kouhi, Michael Brown, Kate Griffith, and Jay-Kwon Park.
Feature Series

Arctic Foreign Policy Field Experience

International Policy Institute Fellows in the field

Bridging the Gap – Joining the Policy Dialogue during Week of the Arctic

by Nadine C. Fabbi, Lead, International Policy Institute Arctic Fellows program

The International Policy Institute (IPI) in the Jackson School is at the forefront of connecting academia to the policy world via innovative field experiences. In early May, fifteen UW graduate students, serving as IPI Arctic Fellows, traveled to Fairbanks and Anchorage to participate in Week of the Arctic and North by North – activities held in conjunction with the Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings. For many, this was their first time to Alaska. For all, it was a rare opportunity to listen to and meet international delegates from the leadership of the Council and to watch as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson handed over the Arctic Council chairman’s gavel to Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini.

As the U.S. chairmanship ends, this year is an historic one for the United States and for Indigenous influence in Arctic affairs. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alaska Purchase and the beginning of an Arctic identity for the nation. It is also the 40th anniversary of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). The first circumpolar organization in the world, the ICC was established in Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska. The ICC played a seminal role in the formation of the Arctic Council and in securing permanent participant status on the Council for Indigenous organizations.

Week of the Arctic in Fairbanks and North by North in Anchorage included workshops on healing and wellness in Northern communities, an Arctic broadband forum, community-based monitory workshops, the world premier of We Breathe Again (a documentary film on intergenerational trauma in Alaskan villages), an Inuit photography exhibit, and many more roundtables, workshops, and presentations. In the blog posts that follow, each of the IPI Arctic Fellows comments on and analyzes an activity experienced or theme identified during the week.

The focus for the UW Arctic Fellows this quarter was Indigenous internationalism, specifically Indigenous influence in Arctic affairs. Since the first international meeting of Arctic Indigenous peoples in Copenhagen in 1973, their influence on decision shaping for the region has increased significantly and is arguably having an impact on global affairs outside the region. In 2011 The Economist, in response to the successful efforts of the Inuit to halt Royal Dutch Shell exploration drilling, noted that “although are only a small minority – an estimated 160,000 of them are spread across the Arctic – they have achieved a degree of power.” This is no minor acknowledgment for a mainstream news magazine. At the meetings in Alaska in May, Indigenous influence was impossible to miss.

Arctic Foreign Policy work on a scratch pad

International education administrators representatives, including Indigenous scholars and leaders, participated in dynamic discussions about how the study of Arctic policy and science can more effectively integrate Traditional and Local Knowledge in Western institutions.

The week began with an all-day forum hosted by the Association for International Education Administrators (AIEA) – the “U.S. as an Arctic Nation: Opportunities for Collaboration in Internationalism.” AIEA is an organization for institutional leaders engaged in advancing the international dimensions of higher education. According to Evon Peter (Gwich’in), Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community and Native Education at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, this was the first-ever forum by AIEA to include significant Indigenous participation. Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators and administrators discussed the key challenges in incorporating Indigenous participation and knowledge into the academy, noting that Western institutions for the most part do not foster or award Indigenous worldviews or pedagogy. Participants came away with a commitment to ensuring that higher education increasingly includes partnerships in teaching and research between mainstream institutions and Indigenous communities.

The meetings included a Traditional Knowledge Roundtable with representatives from the Sámi Council, ICC, and Gwich’in Council International. The was emphasized. The Permanent Participants recently launched the Principles to ensure that every project undertaken by the Arctic Council describes, at the outset, how it will incorporate traditional and local knowledge. Carolina Behe, ICC Alaska, asserted that traditional and local knowledge are about self-determination: Indigenous knowledge is about everything – it is a way to see the world.” Rane Willerslav, University of Aarhus, felt that what we are now witnessing is an “ontological turn” in our attempt to understand and to push the boundaries of knowledge. While challenges remain in effectively incorporating traditional and local knowledge into the work of the Arctic Council, there is a shift occurring in international relations that includes new voices on the world stage.

There is no question that one of the greatest challenges to Indigenous involvement in the work of the Arctic Council is capacity. One of the most inspiring events at Week of the Arctic was the launching the Algú Fund – Sámi for “beginning” – to address capacity issues. The goal of the Algú Fund is to strengthen the Indigenous voice in the Arctic Council. The fund is the long-term vision of Jim Gamble, Executive Director of the Aleut International Association, who will serve as its first chair. In an email announcing the launching of the Algú Fund, it was noted that the fund will “provide resources to support the active involvement of Indigenous peoples in decision making about circumpolar issues at the Arctic Council, which made history twenty years ago when it became the first international body to given Indigenous peoples a formal role.” Sam Alexander, Gwich’in Council International, noted that funding is key to full participation and that this fund will support the next generation of leaders. This is a turning point for the future of the Permanent Participants. Three of the IPI Arctic Fellows will interview Jim Gamble at our June symposium and discuss his role in establishing the Algú Fund.

Week of the Arctic in Fairbanks concluded with the passing of the Arctic Council chairman’s gavel from the United States to Finland. At the Ministerial Meeting, each of the ministers of foreign affairs from the Arctic nation-states presented a statement, as did the Indigenous Permanent Participants. Most inspiring was the statement by the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada, who addressed the delegates in Russian, English, and French. Her comments gave considerable focus to the role of Indigenous peoples. Freeland noted the Government of Canada has mandated that its relationship with Indigenous peoples is a priority and that it be based on a nation-to-nation model. Just a few days earlier, Mary Simon, Special Representative on Arctic Leadership to the Minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, released her report A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model, which will become the basis for Canada’s new Arctic Policy Framework. The report emphasizes the impacts of climate change on culture and community and the need for infrastructure, including education.

As Byron Mallott (Tlingit), Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, noted at the meetings, “the world does not need us, it would function fine without us, but we need the world, everything on this earth has life and spirit, how we treat it will determine our futures.” In determining our futures there is no question that the Arctic Council will see increased involvement and influence of Arctic Indigenous peoples and that this influence will have a impact international relations outside the region.

IPI Arctic Fellows pose in front of the Chena River Eskimo Statue in downtown Fairbanks.

IPI Arctic Fellows pose in front of the Chena River Eskimo Statue in downtown Fairbanks. From left, Sita Kouhi, Lucy Kruesel, Kate Griffith, Marwa Maziad, Brandon Ray, Michael Brown, and Rachel Freeman.

Following are the experiences, observations, and analyses of the IPI Arctic Fellows. Some have several years of background in Arctic Studies; many are new to the field. But all have a dedication and commitment to identifying new ways of thinking to secure the future heath of the planet and its people. Their enthusiasm and fresh perspectives make a marked contribution to setting an agenda for public debate about what is occurring in the Arctic and what this means for domestic and international relations.

This publication is part of the blog series, “Arctic Foreign Policy Field Experience: Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings 2017.” View 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.