Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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Press conference at 9 am at National Park Service (pre-registration required.)

Summary of the Anchorage meeting, press information. More about the Arctic Council and the U.S. Chair. Last year’s AC annual report.

Indigenous issues

Almost four million people live in the Arctic and one estimate is that ten percent of that population is Indigenous. Greenland, the Canadian north including Nunavut, and the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs in Alaska are regions where indigenous people are the majority of the population.

As author John Warren noted in a report: “the rise of solidarity among indigenous peoples organizations in the region is surely a development to be reckoned with by all those interested in policy issues in the Arctic.”

Six national or international indigenous organizations are permanent participants of the Arctic Council.  For example: The Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska outlines seven priority areas, ranging from insuring food security to being included in the global conversation. Caribou as a bell-weather for Athabaskan communities and climate change via Arctic Athabaskan Council.

Subsistence and sustainability are common threads in many of the materials from indigenous people. Draft Arctic Council communication plan on supporting and promoting  traditional ways of life. UN Fact sheet on Arctic Indigenous issues. I am also interested in learning more about Indigenous knowledge and property rights. How will this body of law develop?

Alaska and the U.S. Corps of Engineers are exploring a deep water port, possibly in Nome. How will that impact Alaska Native communities, and, again are there new property rights involved?

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Climate change adaptation

There is a lot of material on climate change and mitigation, such as reducing greenhouse gases. But adaptation will be a growing discourse. I want to know more about what needs to happen to protect people and communities in the Arctic. The Atlantic on relocation of villages in Alaska because of erosion. Alaska seeks money to pay for relocation from The New York Times. This is exactly what I am interested in learning more about: How do we get additional money to pay for climate change adaptation, such as moving villages to building higher sea walls.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has been looking at the problem of adaptation since 2003 when it identified 200 villages threatened by climate change. GAO  in an 2009 update of that report said there has been limited progress and Congress would have to determine “the means and extent of federal assistance to relocating Alaska Native villages.”

This report isn’t about adaptation, but it’s a good look at climate change in the Arctic exploring  the challenges of black carbon.

NASA describes the Arctic as the planet’s early warning system. Most concerning: “In some cases, Arctic systems may be reaching “tipping points”—critical moments in time where a small change has large, potentially irreversible impacts.”

Governance

Brookings Institute links development in Arctic, both energy and tourism, with increased resources from Congress for a ice-breaking ships. From the essay: “The United States is considered an “Arctic Nation,” a term proudly used by policymakers to highlight our intrinsic national interests in the region and a profoundly basic yet important acknowledgement that Alaska and its associated territory above the Arctic Circle are indeed part of the United States. Unfortunately, the United States has yet to advance from this most basic construct of high latitude stakeholder to a proactive leadership and investment posture for the future.”

From Russia, an essay about international cooperation in the Arctic. This quote is particularly significant from Sergey Grinjaev: “Arctic regions takes on special significance, and teamwork on its study and assimilation will be strengthened even in the conditions of action of the Anti-Russian sanctions.”

Another area in governance is that of sovereignty and land claims. Russia recently claimed additional territory. I also wonder what legal claims Alaska Natives and other indigenous communities might have as the geography and shipping lanes change.

Congressional Research Service: Background paper on Arctic issues for members of Congress. “The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region,” CRS said. Paper explores a number of issues ranging from energy to climate change. Also explores U.S. Coast Guard declining assets; two of the three polar icebreakers, Polar Star and Polar Sea, have exceeded their service lives. CRS says the Arctic could be an “emerging” national security issue, particularly with Russia’s role in the region (a contrast to the quote from above. A conservative essay in The National Interest also said more military activity will be a part of the region’s future. 

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