News Archive

by Clive Tesar

In early December, Indigenous Leaders from all across the Arctic came together to talk about issues affecting them all. This was the Arctic Leaders’ Summit, a special meeting that only happens every four years. The Leaders meet at other times, usually at the Arctic Council , but those meetings centre on the Arctic Council ’s agenda. At the Leaders’ Summit, the Indigenous Peoples are free to set their own agenda, to discuss the concerns that they have, and work out how to tackle those concerns.This year’s Summit took place at two different places and times. This was because a big gathering of people was taking place in Montreal, Canada, to talk about climate change. The Arctic Leaders were keen to make sure that the thousands of Delegates to this meeting understood the impacts of climate change in the Arctic. To help this happen, they wrote an Arctic Leaders Declaration on climate change.

At the end of the Montreal meeting, the Leaders Summit began again, thousands of kilometres to the north, in the Dene community of [GP:Katlodeeche] (near to the town of Hay River) in the Northwest Territories of Canada. This was hosted by the Arctic Athabaskan Council .


The day started with a traditional ceremony of feeding the fire. Local Chief Roy Fabian explained that having a woman feed the fire with food is giving thanks to the creator for making mother earth, which provides everything needed by Dene people. The man giving tobacco to the fire is the second part of the ceremony. Chief Fabian said the tobacco offering was to the ancestors for having left the earth in the state it is today, so that it can still be used. After the opening ceremonies, the focus was on oil and gas development. This is a major issue for many Arctic Peoples, as oil companies increasingly look to the north for new sources of oil and gas. As one participant noted, the north is attractive, because it is more peaceful and stable than many other places where oil and gas are found. Leaders heard of the experience of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group in Canada’s Northwest Territories. This group of different Indigenous Peoples plans to buy a third share of major planned gas pipeline in their region. This plan is not without its critics. Chief Roy Fabian believes the deal goes against Dene principles.

“Can we live in harmony with the land doing the things we are doing today, extracting resources from the land?”

he asked.

Doug Cardinal, a member of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, believes that being part of the development is the best way to control it for the benefit of Dene.

“We came together in the best interests of Aboriginal People, not for one community or one region, we wanted to be sure that everybody felt part of it. This go around we have a chance to have an impact on how development is done with first nations.”

People also heard of the experience of the Nenets people of Russia. Nenets Leader Vlad Peskov spoke of his peoples’ concerns over new offshore developments, such as the ‘Prirazlomnoe’, that Russian oil companies plan to develop as early as next year. Peskov says local Indigenous People are trying to get their governments to protect indigenous interests in the face of the increasing development, but that is not the only approach they are taking.

“We’re trying not to sit and wait for governments to introduce Acts, but to engage directly with oil companies to get them to respect the standards and principles important to local Indigenous Peoples.”

Peskov says some oil companies have reached small agreements to provide some money to local reindeer herders. However, the oil companies insist that the agreements be kept secret, so the herders cannot show the agreements to others, to get independent advice of the deals. This, says Peskov, has reduced them to a state of dependency on the oil companies.

Aside from sharing information on oil and gas development, the Leaders came forward with some concrete proposals. Pavel Sulyandziga of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North suggested that each of the Arctic indigenous organizations document their experiences with oil and gas companies. That experience could be used to ensure that the developers treat Indigenous Peoples fairly and equally, whether they are working in the Russian Arctic, or in northern Canada.

“We had to deal with Exxon Mobil in Sakhalin where they refused to acknowledge the rights of Indigenous Peoples,”

said Sulyandziga.

“We could list companies that do not respect indigenous rights, or the environment.”

The second day of the K’atlodeeche Summit was devoted to producing an action plan that could help guide the activities of the circumpolar indigenous peoples as they work together on common issues. The action plan includes further work on climate change, supporting the declaration made in Montreal, as well as activities on oil and gas issues, and ensuring that Arctic Indigenous Peoples have a place in the scientific projects to take place under the International Polar Year. The action plan is now being circulated to all of the Permanent Participants for approval.

Wednesday, 28 December 2005 19:33

The Meaning of Dene

The Arctic Leaders summit at K’atlodeeche took place on the traditional land of the Dene people. The Dene call their traditional area Denendeh. The chief of K’atlodeeche, Roy Fabian, explained the meanings of ‘Dene’ and ‘Denendeh’.

“Dene means two things: ‘De’ meaning river or the radiance of the sun, and ‘Ne’ meaning earth; we believe we’re from mother earth. Our elders taught that to be Dene people, you cannot break your ties with her. We call our land Denendeh. That doesn’t mean Dene land, it means Dene with the land. In our language there’s no such thing as ownership. We need to re-educate our young people to change what’s going on in mother earth. There must be a big paradigm shift. Ninety percent of our people think they own the land, but that’s a ludicrous idea. As Dene people, the land owns us.”

by Clive Tesar

Representatives of Permanent Participant organizations made a solid impact at recent climate change negotiations in Montreal, Canada. A space was set aside by the Government of Canada for one day during the negotiations to highlight the concerns of Arctic Peoples. As “Arctic Day” started, the room was packed with people eager to see the traditional drumming and dancing of the Inuvialuit from northern Canada, members of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. The room remained full throughout the day, as people streamed in to see the various cultural performances, including dancers and singers from the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, drummers from the Arctic Athabaskan Council , and even an Inuit fashion show.The cultural events helped to draw people to the messages that the political Leaders had to deliver. The Leaders used speeches, as well as videos, and collections of traditional knowledge to drive across their point that climate change is already affecting the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic, and threatens to have even stronger impacts if countries do not take firm and immediate actions to slow the rate of warming in the Arctic.

Arctic Day was chosen as the day on which the Leaders released their statement on Arctic Climate change. They did this by presenting it to Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion, who was chairing the climate change negotiations. The statement follows this article.

The cultural events were not just a way to get people to come to the Arctic Day; they also sent their own message - that despite the impacts of change, Arctic cultures are strong. Those cultures have resisted all of the changes they have faced to date, and indigenous languages, dances, customs, and stories still survive. With help from Arctic states, and with the determination of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous cultures will also survive the threat of Arctic warming.

STATEMENT BY REPRESENTATIVES OF ARCTIC INDIGENOUS PEOPLES ORGANIZATIONS ON THE OCCASION OF THE ELEVENTH CONFERENCE OF PARTIES TO THE UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, MONTREAL CANADA

  • In unity with the International Indigenous Peoples Forum and the Tiohtia:ke – the Mohawk people – in whose Traditional Territory this statement is delivered;
  • Declaring that Indigenous Peoples have the right collectively and individually to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law;
  • Supporting the Declaration on Climate Change by the Arctic Youth Network and their call for urgent action to address the lack of public awareness of the risks posed by climate change, and the importance of involving youth in all planning and work affecting future of generations;
  • Welcoming the release of the Science Report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and the Arctic Human Development Report and noting with concern their findings that the Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid social and climatic changes on earth;
  • Acknowledging early evidence of the negative impacts of climate change on Arctic flora, fauna and peoples, inter alia, coastal erosion due to sea level rising, the warming of land and sea surface temperatures, changes in boreal forest, mountain and riparian ecosystems, including the appearance of invasive species, increased risk to humans and animals from exposure to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation, and the cumulative effects of these changes on the health, societies, culture and well-being of Arctic Indigenous Peoples;
  • Alarmed that the cumulative impacts of climate change and the pace of resource development on the Arctic environment may pose a significant risk for the culture, health and sustainability of the livelihoods of Arctic Indigenous Peoples;
  • Welcoming the commitment by Arctic Council Ministers in the 2004 Reykjavik Declaration and the Arctic Policy Document to enhance access by Arctic residents to information, decision makers and institutional capacity building, including Arctic Indigenous Peoples;
  • Note that for Arctic Indigenous Peoples the threshold beyond which man-made greenhouse gases dangerously interfere with the climate system, as set out in Article 2 of the UNFCCC , has already been exceeded;
  • Request that Parties give special consideration to the inclusion of Arctic Indigenous perspectives within the ongoing research and decisions of the UNFCCC, and the dissemination of information about the results of scientific research, on global warming and its impacts; this special consideration should include provisions for Indigenous Peoples within developed countries to access United Nations programs and funding for regional and national climate change mitigation and adaptation activities;
  • Welcome the discussion on SBSTA agenda item 3 on the Scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of impacts of, and vulnerability and adaptation to, climate change and efforts made by Parties to enhance and enable the participation of Indigenous Peoples in its programme of work, and specifically relating to adaptation planning, measures, actions and specific activities;
  • Urge Parties to give full and fair consideration to the views of Indigenous Peoples, through timely and effective consultation, especially with regard to vulnerability and impacts, adaptation planning, measures and actions, specific activities, and their integration, within the work program of the Conference.

The Sakha Republic's Department of Culture and Education hosted the "Arctic Indigenous Siberian Languages Symposium" in September of 2009. The symposium was a Russian follow-up to the Arctic Councils "Arctic Indigenous Languages Symposium" held in Tromsø in November 2008. It was arranged in collaboration with the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON). The symposium focused on indigenous languages in the Sakha Republic, which is home to 26 indigenous languages. Several research groups from Sakha presented their research results and their on-going work. Presentations outlined the systematic approach to document these indigenous languages and the initiated revitalization of some of them. The linguistic rights, written formulation, development of textbooks, focus on different cultural expressions and printing of literature and textbooks were among the issues discussed. Teaching in indigenous languages is being intensified in the Sakha Republic through language policies and a systematic approach in developing educational materials. The Sakha Republic has extensive working relationships with the neighboring political entities and with the international research community dealing with those issues. There are several educational and research institutes that focus on the indigenous cultures and languages of the Russian Federation. Some have existed for several years and are now producing and reprinting cultural and education materials as well as indigenous literature both in the forms of traditional tales and poetry of today. Participants in the symposium included national and international experts from UNESCO (UN-New York), Oqaasileriffik (Greenland Self Rule), Catalan (Barcelona, Spain), the University of Chicago (USA), the University of Leiden (Holland) and the Herzen Institute of St. Petersburg (Russian Federation) and Moscow University (Russian Federation). Representatives from neighboring political entities (Magadan Oblast, Sakhalin Oblast, Kamchatka Krai, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Khanty-Mansisk Autonomous Okrug, Karelia Republic) and from Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council (Arctic Athapascan Council and RAIPON) were also invited to participate in the symposium on Indigenous Languages of Siberian Languages. The proceedings of the symposium will be distributed to the participating institutions and organizations as well as other groups interested in the symposium, such as the Arctic Council. Bvh

Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00

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