Retrospective 2023: Circumpolar Indigenous Peoples in the Central Arctic | Polarjournal

The year 2023 saw several projects and events aimed at strengthening the self-determination and presence of circumpolar Indigenous populations in scientific research, in the Arctic and on the international scene. The opportunity for us to take a retrospective on this subject, which is more relevant than ever in the Arctic facing climate change.

The first part of the year saw an interesting project emerge in Greenland, Paasisavut. Organized by the University of Greenland and the International Arctic Hub, the aim of this televised event was to bring together researchers who came to present their work in front of an audience and a jury made up of experts. With a prize of 25,000 Danish crowns (around 3,300 euros) for the winner. A way both to present science to an audience from all backgrounds, but also to highlight scientific research in Greenland.

Another important scientific event, the ArcticNet ASM2023, which held, for the first time in 19 years, its annual conference in the Arctic, more precisely in Iqaluit in Nunuvat. Nearly half of the participants were researchers from the Arctic who were able to share the obstacles encountered in research.

Beyond scientific research strictly speaking, we also saw the emergence of a number of projects aimed at promoting and circulating, within a young society, traditional Inuit knowledge and the local language. Like Nunavik, which organized qajaq construction workshops in schools to allow students reconnect with their roots. Or Nunavut, with the Inuksiutilirjiit project, which exists for several years now and allows elders to make a valuable contribution in schools by teaching traditional knowledge and skills.

Or SIKU – The Indigenous Social Network, a platform for sharing knowledge and observations. Initiated four years ago, this social network allows Indigenous communities from eastern Greenland to Alaska to share and exchange information on the state of the ice, wildlife and hunting. Crucial information, particularly in terms of security, which is added to the possibility of sharing traditional knowledge in the local language.

The year 2023 brought the signing of agreements aimed at guaranteeing greater involvement of Inuit in the management of resources or sites. An agreement signed in August between the Canadian government and representatives of the local and aboriginal populations of the Inuvialuit, Yukon and Northwest Territories guaranteed shared management of oil and gas resources in the Western Arctic. Another example: in April, Canada entrusted conservation and management of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site to the Inuit communities of Kitikmeot.

However, these projects should not hide the fact that there is still a long way to go to achieve true inclusion of circumpolar Indigenous communities in scientific research, in the Arctic and on the international scene.

As noted in an article published in Science (which we featured last July) that demonstrated that violations of Indigenous rights by researchers are still too often commonplace. And to advocate for the inclusion of communities and their knowledge in research while obtaining their consent in the conduct of research, respect for their intellectual property and the promotion of work with these communities.

A way of putting the Indigenous circumpolar populations back at the center of an Arctic which has for too long been considered a territory to be conquered and empty of inhabitants, before paying the price of colonization policies whose repercussions are still very present today.

The year also ended with a call from the ICC at COP28 and with the presence of circumpolar communities at the climate conference, in particular that of Greenland’s Minister of Agriculture, Self-Sufficiency, Energy and Environment, Kalistat Lund, whose country has just confirmed its membership in the Paris Agreement.Lund also emphasized the particularly positive reception he received at the conference, recalling the importance of the voice of local populations being heard and having a real influence on global negotiations about climate change.

A sign that things are changing? Let’s see what the year 2024 will bring. What is certain is that, despite the difficulties, the circumpolar Indigenous populations have not given up. Between the initiatives aimed at preserving and transmitting culture and language to younger generations and the approaches and calls to have their rights recognized over their territories and their existence, the populations of the Far North seem determined to finally be put back at the center of the debates around a changing Arctic.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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