ARCTIC VOICE

A meeting of high-ranking officials of the governments of the Arctic countries was held in the capital of Canada. A draft declaration on the creation of the Arctic Council was discussed at the meeting, and it was attended by the delegations of the indigenous Arctic peoples. Andrei KRIVOSHAPKIN, permanent representative of the Yakutian State Assembly in the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation was member of the delegation of the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation


ARCTIC VOICE, No. 8 August, 1996


ARCTIC COUNCIL: A LONG WAY AHEAD

Andrei Krivoshapkin, President of the Association of the Northern Indigenous Peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), permanent representative of the Yakutian State Assembly in the

Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation

Representatives of the governments of eight Arctic countries (Canada, the USA, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Russia) met in the Canadian capital of Ottawa on August 5 - 6 to discuss the final draft Declaration on founding the Arctic Council.

At this meeting, which was called a conference of senior officials, the Arctic countries were represented by a number of high-ranking government officials. Russia was represented by S. Nikiforov, consultant at the Russian Foreign Ministry's legal department, and V. Artamonov, Minister of Foreign Relations of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

Apart from the representatives of the above-mentioned countries, the conference was attended by delegations from the three generally recognised international public organisations of the indigenous Arctic peoples: the ICC, the Northern Council of Saami, and the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation. The delegation of the latter Association included its President Yeremei Aipin, the head of the Association of the Aleuts of the Commander Islands, and the author of this article.

The preliminary discussion of the draft Declaration by senior officials took place this July. At this meeting, they expressed new ideas and proposals. During the past two months, as was pointed out by the participants in the conference, the sides conducted active negotiations to bring their different points of view closer together. As a result, the draft Declaration was considerably concretised. This served as a basis for the fruitful completion of this conference.

After the juridical finalisation of the Arctic Council, its members will be: Canada, the USA, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

The ICC, the Council of Saami and the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation will be given the status of permanent participants in the Arctic Council. It should be pointed out that, according to the Declaration, the number of the permanent participants can be constantly enlarged, but must not top the number of the members of the Arctic Council.

Discussions broke out on two issues at the conference. The first discussion concerned two terms: "people" or "peoples" - which of them should be used in the Declaration.

The ICC insisted on the term "peoples" to be used throughout the Declaration. Many delegations, including the government delegation from Russia and the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation supported the position of the ICC. However, the delegation from the USA objected the use of the term "peoples."

Then, making a compromise, the Americans proposed to use the wording of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which provides for using the term "peoples" (only once).

The second issue was: should the permanent participants in the Arctic Council sign the Declaration on a par with the member-states? Except for the USA, all the other participating countries considered it necessary. The US delegation proposed that the permanent participants should sign a separate communique which would then be added to the Declaration.

In his speech, Yeremei Aipin stated that the USA's position lacked logic: if the permanent participants do not sign the Declaration, they will not have partnership relations with their own governments. The signing of the separate communique is also a bit odd. An agreement has not yet been reached, but the negotiation process will continue.

The creation of the Arctic Council will play a positive role for the global solution of social and economic problems of the Arctic. Credit should be given to the governments of the eight Arctic states for the goodwill displayed by them and for their efforts to ensure the stable development of the Arctic and its indigenous peoples.

The inauguration of the Arctic Council is scheduled for the second half of September. The Council will have a symbolic emblem. They are planning to hold a contest for the best variant.

In between the sessions, I managed to put questions to some of the participants in the conference. Mr. Laif Hallonen has devoted his life to the struggle for the rights and interests of the Saami in Scandinavia. At present, he is the coordinator of the Northern Council of Saami. Here is what he had to say concerning the arisen differences.

- I do not think that we should sign the Declaration, because there is no need to sign a document on which we do not agree. The Declaration does not differentiate between the notions of "people" and "peoples." Unfortunately, we have not received the full status of a permanent participant.

Question: Mr. Hallonen, despite all these things, how do you view your future participation in the Arctic Council? Answer: Of course, we can take part in the activity of the Arctic Council. Everything depends on what our activity will be.

Mrs. Rosemary Kuptana is the President of the ICC. According to the general opinion, she is very active, persistent and consistent in defending the rights and the interests of the indigenous peoples of the foreign Arctic.

Question: Mrs. Kuptana, how do you appraise the results of the discussion about the draft Declaration?

Answer: I am satisfied with the achievement of certain progress. At the same time, we are not satisfied with our status within the framework of the draft Declaration. We think that the negotiation process should be continued, and it is necessary to reach an equal participation in the Arctic Council.

I am sure that this organisation will play an important role in improving the situation in the Arctic and the life of its indigenous peoples. We stand for the foundation of the

Arctic Council. We have been waiting a long time for its appearance, and we are glad that it will be founded soon.

Vitaly Artamonov, Minister of Foreign Relations of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), speaking at the final session, stated his firm support of the Arctic Council and proposed to discuss the possibility of admitting the Congress of the Komi and Sakha Peoples to the Arctic Council as a permanent participant.

Question: Mr. Artamonov, how do you assess the results of this conference?

Answer: I regard them as very important, because the Arctic countries have understood that they are the masters of this part of the world. They have united to jointly study and resolve the problems of the stable development of the Arctic.

In the future, it will be necessary to settle all the issues, including the borders in the Arctic Ocean.

Question: Mr. Artamonov, how can you comment on the situation concerning the signing of the Declaration?

Answer: Highly rating the contribution of the organisations of the indigenous peoples to the foundation of the Arctic Council, I think that they should have been given the chance to take an active part in its activity on a par with the states.

Question: And what is your attitude to the terms "people" and "peoples"?

Answer: I support the term "peoples" because all Arctic indigenous peoples must be taken into consideration.

The next person with whom I talked was Yeremei Aipin, President of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation.

Question: Mr. Aipin, how do you think the Arctic Council will influence the position of the indigenous peoples in the North, Siberia, and the Far East of the Russian Federation?

Answer: I hope that the Arctic Council will take into consideration the proposals of the Association in conducting its policy. Our proposals will proceed, of course, from the interests of the Northern peoples. At present, we intend to strengthen our relations and establish new contacts with the

ICC and the Council of Saami. In September, an international conference of the writers of the Northern peoples will take place in Salekhard, and the All-Russian Association of the

Indigenous Peoples of the North will hold its third congress in November. Representatives of the ICC and the Council of Saami have been invited to these two events.

...Of course, this is only the beginning. I am sure that in the 21st century, the Arctic will play an important role in the economic development of our planet. Therefore, the foundation of the Arctic Council is a very timely and useful step.

Good luck to you, Arctic Council!

Ottawa - Moscow