Skip to main content

The United States tackles climate change: “Defend the Sacred” protests pay off

May 26, 2017


Marwa Maziad

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson poses for a photo with the Pan-Arctic Indigenous Permanent Participant Heads of Delegation to the Arctic Council
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson poses for a photo with the Pan-Arctic Indigenous Permanent Participant Heads of Delegation to the Arctic Council at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10, 2017. From left to right: Okalik Eegeesiak, Inuit Circumpolar Council; Åsa Larsson-Blind, Saami Council; U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Ethel Blake, Gwich’in Council International; Vladimir Klijmov, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North; and Mikhail Pogodaev from the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) of Russia, Executive Director of the Northern Forum and Chair of the Association of World Reindeer Herders. (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo / Public Domain)
Feature Series

Arctic Foreign Policy Field Experience

International Policy Institute Fellows in the field


Fairbanks, Alaska – The Indigenous people, who make upIndigenous peoples account for about 10 percent of the total population of the circumpolar northwere entitled to acelebration last Thursday, May 11th, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a pledge to address climate change during the Arctic meeting.

The reason for the celebration was that the pressures fromthe Indigenous peoples led to fruitionThe Ministers of the Arctic Council signed the Fairbanks Declaration, whichpledged to address climate change, at the 20th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council  a network of eight countries with territories in the Arcticincluding the United States, Russia, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, and also six Indigenous organizations or Permanent Participants.

The signing of the document by the United States was a surprise to some observers due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s frequent comments undermining environmental concerns as well as climate change agreements.

The Arctic Council is a unique forum in international relations where Indigenous peoples sit on almost equal footing with member states. Finland is chair of the Council for the next two years, as the United States completed its term this year.

The Fairbanks Declaration urges various bodies to attentively monitor the widespread impact of climate change on the Arctic and calls for the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

A source at the U.S. State Department told Al-Masry Al-Youm that they have worked so hard to produce this document in a manner that recognizes the environmental dangers. Thus, the previous day’s demonstrations by about two hundred Alaskan residents were quite “disheartening” for those who personally worked so hard to deal with these issues.

On the other hand, a source from another Nordic country, who preferred to remain anonymous said, “The demonstrations were actually useful and impactful. These pressures are pushing us to find better solutions. Because let’s face it if you we are doing one thing right there are hundred more things that need to be done.”

There was a march on Wednesday called “Defend the Sacred … Defend the Land,” which the Alaska Indigenous people organized, calling for the protection of ice.

Swedish Minster of Foreign Affairs Margo Wallström told Al-Masry Al-Youm, “The Arctic is a test case for the world. In Egypt you have another test case, such as the coral reefs. It is a test of whether we can find a path towards a sustainable future. But here it is so clear. We are like the cap on the head of the planet, with the sun shining straight on us. If we take of this cap; if the snow or ice melts, the temperature will rise to a level where the whole planet will be really, really sick. We are so implicated.” The minister also emphasized the idea of “decoupling economic growth from emitting green house gases. And we in Sweden are a good example of that together with some other European countries. We had remarkable economic growth,” she added.

“Sustainability is especially important here because the effect of the impact of any economic activity is so great. Also, an accident or an oil spill or whatever can stay here for decades and generations. And we would not be able to cope with it. And that is why it is so important that we do it in the right way to begin with,” said Minister Wallström.

Translated from the original article written by Marwa Maziad and published in Arabic in Almasry Alyoum, May 13, 2017,

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.