Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region halts all activities

Lars-Anders Baer (to the right) joined the “family photo” after the Barents Summit

The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region halts all activities due to lack of funding. The decision was taken one day after the Prime Ministers praised the Indigenous Peoples work at the Barents Summit.

Dmitri Medvedev, Jens Stoltenberg, Jyrki Katainen and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the Prime Ministers of Russia, Norway, Finland and Iceland, all underlined the importance of Indigenous Peoples participation in the Barents Cooperation in their official speeches at the Barents Summit on Tuesday. So did also Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal and the European Commission’s Vice President Siim Kallas.

Lars-Anders Baer, chair of the Working Groups of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP) was among the ministers at the podium.

“It’s a long way from the fine words of the Prime Ministers at the 20th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation, to the real world for us Indigenous Peoples,” says Lars-Anders Baer today after the ministers have taken off from Kirkenes with their private jets.

The Working Group has since 1995 had an advisory role for both the Barents Council and the Barents Regional Council.

Members of the WGIP represent the Sámi in Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden as well as the Nenets and Vepsian peoples in Russia.

It is the lack of economic support that now forces WGIP to suspend its activities. Russia does not grant any funding, and funding from Sweden and Finland are sporadic. Norway is the only providing economic support on a regular basis.

“Russia is with its zero-funding hindering its own Indigenous Peoples participation. One can say that Russia’s contribution to WGIP today is only fine words. Also Russia’s new law on NGOs that need to register as “foreign agents” create problems for the Indigenous Peoples cooperation, “says Baer.

During the Barents Summit, Lars-Anders Baer, was sitting on the stage discussing the further of the Barents Cooperation together with the Ministers. Afterwards he told BarentsObserver “We are on stage, but we’re the cheap ones.

“It’s not a question of big money,” he says, adding that annual funding of even NOK 400,000 (€52,000) would be sufficient for indigenous people to have adequate involvement in the Council’s activities and decisions. It’s peanuts in the governmental structure.”

On Wednesday, the Working Group made the decision to suspend activities. Lars-Anders Baer says that also Finland and Sweden mainly have contributed with nice words at conferances and festivities. (Barents Observer)

Canadian Chairmanship program stated

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt hands the gavel, which symbolizes handing the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, to Canada’s Minister of the Arctic Council Leona Aglukkaq

The 8th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council took place the 15th of May in Kiruna, northern Sweden.

The forward-looking statement entitled ‘Vision for the Arctic’ was adopted at the meeting. The document outlines the Arctic states’ and indigenous Permanent Participants’ joint vision for the development of the region.

Arctic Council States also signed a new, legally-binding Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic which will substantially improve procedures for combatting oil spills in the Arctic.

A number of important reports were presented to the Ministers at the meeting. During the meeting, ministers also signed the Kiruna Declaration, which sets out the work of the Council during the Canadian Chairmanship (2013-15).

“Canada is honoured to assume the Chairmanship of the Council,” said Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the first Inuk to helm Arctic Council. “The theme for Canada’s Chairmanship is Development for the People of the North.”

During the Canadian Chairmanship, the Arctic Council program will include the establishment of a Circumpolar Business Forum to provide new opportunities for business to engage with the Council; continued work on oil pollution prevention; and action to address short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and methane.

Click here to dowload the Canada´s Chairmanship priorities. (Arctic Portal)

Arctic Council´s international breakthrough

The foreign ministers of Russia, Sergey Larvrov, Norway, Espen Barth Eide, USA, John Kerry and Sweden Carl Bildt

The decision to invite six new nations as observers in the Arctic Council lifts the status of this forum to a new level, says Norway´s foreign minister Espen Barth Eide.

When the Arctic Council gathered for an evening dinner in Kiruna on Tuesday there where no time for small talk. The council had one important issue to solve before the official Arctic Council meeting on the 15th: Whether or not to include six new observer nations to the council.

“We were far beyond the main course before the decision to invite China or not was decided on, and nobody was really certain of the outcome when the debates started”, Barth Eide confirms.

But to Barth Eide´s relief they finally agreed on the role of the observer status and which rights are given to these new observers in the council. So in the morning of the 15th all council members signed the Kiruna Declaration in the City Hall of Kiruna.

Better international cooperation
Barth Eide highlights the decision as a breakthrough for the political status of the Arctic Council. And this breakthrough is not only important for the cooperation between the Arctic nations, but also for international cooperation across the world.

“The Kiruna Declaration confirms that the Arctic Council is the primary organisation for Arctic issues. It confirms that the basic principles of the Arctic Council are to lead the way for all decisions concerning the Arctic. It confirms that all nations will focus on preserving the environment of the Arctic and it also confirms that this organisation will have Indigenous Peoples as active participants”.

EU has to wait
However, one issue was not solved during the tough discussions of the evening dinner: The observer status of the European Union. It is agreed that also EU will become an observer in the council, however some details concerning their role must be solved first.

“EU and Canada have to solve some disputes first and seals are a major part of these remaining discussions”, says Barth Eide.

EU had outlined a suggestion for solving the disputes on sales of seal products, but Canada felt the new text was sent on a too short notice to make a decision. Therefore the final decision to include EU as an observer in the council will have to be postponed, but not for long. It can be decided within the next months in the chairmanship. Since Canada has taken over the chair of the Arctic Council it will probably be solved quite fast, according to Barth Eide.

Main goal
The Norwegian foreign minister is satisfied that Norway´s main goal for the Kiruna meeting was decided on. In his opinion the observer debate has taken all focus away from other and more important discussions on Arctic development.

“I look forward to discussing more important issues for the Arctic, like environment and climate. And we see also on this meeting that all member countries agree that this is the most important area to focus on in the years to come”. (Barents Observer)