Human Development

Arctic Human Development Report

The Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR), completed in 2004, was an attempt to survey the political, social, and cultural conditions in the Arctic. This was an enormous task; one that the authors of the report admit has not been completed. What it provides is a baseline for measuring some of the things that have already been measured, and a starting point for identifying what information remains to be collected. The report had several indigenous authors, and the other authors also covered Indigenous Peoples’ issues in quite a lot of detail. In general terms, it showed that where indigenous peoples had more control of their lives, they were healthier, wealthier, and their cultures were stronger. In economic terms, the report showed that the Arctic is a net exporter of wealth. More value is taken out of the Arctic in the form of resources than flows back in from governments. The report also stressed that quality of life in the Arctic should not only be measured in economic terms: “Many Arctic residents – especially those who are indigenous to the region or long-term residents – associate a good life with the maintenance of traditional hunting, gathering, and herding practices… For many, well- being is to be found in a way of life that minimizes the need for the sorts of material goods and services included in calculations of GDP per capita [gross domestic product per person, a standard way of measuring wealth].” The statistics clearly show that in some aspects of indigenous life, such as the speaking of indigenous languages, the picture around the Arctic has been one of language loss. Most indigenous Peoples have seen their languages steadily slip away, replaced by languages from the south; English, Russian, Norwegian, and others. Some languages have been lost already, others are nearly lost. The Alaskan language of Eyak, for instance only has one recorded speaker, and the Kerek language on north-eastern Russia has only 2 recorded speakers. This loss of language is not happening everywhere, however. Some languages have remained strong in their original lands, such as Greenlandic, which is a language of Inuit. Other languages are becoming stronger after a period of decline, such as Saami. A school-based revival of the Saami language has been taking place since the 1970s, leading to more use of the language.

Rights and Wrongs – Self-government, Land and Resources

“Today, the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic constitute only a fraction of the region’s permanent human residents (though they are the majority in some subregions). Under these circumstances, a major issue facing those responsible for making decisions about the Arctic is the clarification of the rights of the region’s Indigenous Peoples, including not only human and political rights but also the rights to the land and natural resources of those who have never relinquished their aboriginal rights despite the absorption of their homelands into the jurisdictions of modern nation states.”

Several chapters of the Arctic Human Development Report touch on a subject central to many of the Arctic’s Indigenous Peoples today; their ability to govern themselves, and their rights to traditional lands and resources. While these ideas can be separated by western governance and legal systems, indigenous peoples tend to look at the land, its resources, and the rules governing the people on that land as parts of the same whole. When the control of land, government and jurisdiction over resources was taken away from them, Indigenous Peoples began the struggle to regain those things. The responses of Arctic states to the desire of Indigenous Peoples to gain more local control have been very different. In Norway, Finland and Sweden, Saami people have Saami Parliaments, elected only by Saami, to look after the interests of Saami. To date, these Parliaments only have the power to advise the national governments, not to make their own binding laws. However, the report says that the Norwegian Saami Parliament in particular is getting closer to exercising real governmental powers. In Canada, there are different paths that Indigenous Peoples are following to self-government and control of land and resources. In Nunavut, for instance, Inuit have a land claim that gives them total ownership over some of the land (about 18%). The claim also also contained an agreement to set up a separate public government for Nunavut, that is, a government for which anyone in Nunavut, not just Inuit, can vote. Since Inuit make up about 85% of Nunavut’s population, they effectively control the government. The claim also set up ‘co-management boards’ to look after resources on public lands. Of nine members on the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Inuit organizations get to appoint four members, the Nunavut Government appoints one, and the national government appoints three, with an independent Chair being nominated by the members. Greenland’s ‘Home Rule’ government is similar to the Nunavut government. It also is a government for all of the people in the territory, but because Inuit are again the vast majority in the territory, it is effectively an Indigenous Government. In Yukon, and among other First Nations Territories in Canada, some Indigenous Peoples have chosen a different path to self-government. While they have also completed land claims, giving them total ownership over a portion of their traditional lands, they have opted for a government based on their own traditions, to be exercised over their own communities. Only members of the First Nations will be able to form such governments.

ILO Convention #169, Article 7 1. The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development. In addition, they shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programmes for national and regional development which may affect them directly. 2. The improvement of the conditions of life and work and levels of health and education of the peoples concerned, with their participation and co-operation, shall be a matter of priority in plans for the overall economic development of areas they inhabit. Special projects for development of the areas in question shall also be so designed as to promote such improvement. 3. Governments shall ensure that, whenever appropriate, studies are carried out, in co-operation with the peoples concerned, to assess the social, spiritual, cultural and environmental impact on them of planned development activities. The results of these studies shall be considered as fundamental criteria for the implementation of these activities. 4. Governments shall take measures, in co-operation with the peoples concerned, to protect and preserve the environment of the territories they inhabit.

Alaska has a similar system, where tribal governments operate alongside public governments, after land claims had settled land ownership in the State. In the 1990’s Russia also began to recognize land rights for indigenous peoples. The “obshchinas” were created, small indigenous fishing or reindeer-herding enterprises that could ask the government for land. Russia has also begun to set aside some lands where indigenous peoples have a say in managing the resources on the land. Finally, the Russian government adopted three laws that set out rights of Russian Indigenous Peoples. However, the Report states that both the laws and the obshchinas have not been as successful as Indigenous Peoples has hoped, “Mechanisms in Russia for implementing these rights are lacking and powerful political forces resist their implementation.” Despite the difficulties, some indigenous communities in Russia have managed to negotiate a form of self-government. According to the Report, the Yukagir, one of the smallest of Russia’s ‘minority peoples’ managed to establish a form of self-government (‘suktul’ in Yukagir) in two communities in the Sakha Republic. This was negotiated with the Sakha Republic Government.

ILO Convention #169, Article 14 1. The rights of ownership and possession of the peoples concerned over the lands which they traditionally occupy shall be recognized. In addition, measures shall be taken in appropriate cases to safeguard the right of the peoples concerned to use lands not exclusively occupied by them, but to which they have traditionally had access for their subsistence and traditional activities. Particular attention shall be paid to the situation of nomadic peoples and shifting cultivators in this respect. 2. Governments shall take steps as necessary to identify the lands which the peoples concerned traditionally occupy, and to guarantee effective protection of their rights of ownership and possession. 3. Adequate procedures shall be established within the national legal system to resolve land claims by the peoples concerned.

While the Arctic states are making all of these different responses, there is activity at the international level that may also improve Indigenous Peoples’ access to land, resources and governance rights. The United Nations is still working on a draft of a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The draft includes a right of self-determination and control of lands and resources, including a right say no to proposed developments on traditional lands. However, the draft has been around for more than ten years already, and the report says, “Progress is painfully slow, and there remain disagreements on foundational articles.” The International Labour Organization has also taken up the issue of indigenous peoples' land rights. The Organization has adopted a treaty, known as ‘ILO Convention No. 169’. This has been ratified by Denmark and Norway, while Sweden and Finland are said to be continuing to study ratification.

Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway