Pan Min

Pan Min

Associate Professor, Center for Polar and Ocean Studies, Tongji University, China

Visiting at: Arctic Research Centre, Umea University, Sweden
Period: 2 months
Research Theme: Role of Arctic Indigenous people (AIP) in the Arctic

Dr. Pan Min, associate professor at Center for Polar and Oceanic Studies of Tong Ji University, was granted the opportunity to conduct a two-month fellowship at Umea University in Sweden, where had chance to meet a wide range of researchers and experts with respect to the Sami and Arctic Governance. 

 Texts below are the summary of an academic report of CNARC fellowship that Dr. Pan Min has submitted.

The Sami and Arctic Governance

There are 4 million inhabitants in the Arctic, 10% of which are the Arctic indigenous peoples. The two most populous indigenous peoples are Inuit and Sami. The Sami mainly live in the Nordic region, whose population is estimated to be between 70,000 and 100,000. They are distributed in the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, where the area they live is called the Sápmi area.

Pan Min during her visit in Sweden

Currently, the Arctic region is undergoing substantial and accelerating changes, which include not only the mainstream climate change, but also a series of political, economic, social and cultural changes, , which may be more difficult for the indigenous peoples to adapt. Therefore, the indigenous peoples' participation in the governance of the Arctic is both right and imminent.

The dramatic legal empowerment of Indigenous peoples over the past two decade has profoundly shaped new and emerging governance arrangements. One of the trends of future Arctic governance is the rise of indigenous people’s political and legal status by giving them more governance rights. This study will cover three levels: local, Nordic-Arctic and Arctic governance and selected representative Sami organizations and governance platforms on each level, to explore these questions: which activities were the Sami involved in? How can they participate in these activities? What is the effect?

1. Local Level

Sami's participation in the local governance of Nordic countries is mainly carried out through the Sami parliaments. The Sami Parliaments of Norway, Sweden, and Finland are the representative bodies for people of Sami heritage in three states. The Parliament acts as an institution of cultural autonomy for the indigenous Sami people. It is a national body that has political relations not only to the national government, but also connections to municipal and county-level governments.

The Sami Parliament was formed in the process of Sami's pursuit of the right to self-determination. Self-determination refers to two aspects: the right to autonomous governance and own institutions, and full and effective participation at all levels of decision-making.

The competences of the three Sami Parliaments include the allocation of state subsidies and funds from the governments; the appointment of the Board of Directors for Sami schools; the guidance of work on the Sami language; the participation in community development and ensuring that Sami needs are considered. The Sami parliaments are democratically elected every four years. The Sami parliaments administer their own electoral registers and organs. In each country, Sami inhabitants have a vote in each country to elect representatives to their Sami Parliament.

However, the role of the Sami parliaments in local governance is often limited. The Sami parliaments have the political autonomy to develop policy recommendations to their respective national parliaments, but are limited in that the recommendations are advisory and not legally binding. The Sami Parliament would be forced to administrate even those decisions of government facilities which do not comply with its politics.

Now the Sami Parliamentary Council, represented by the Sami parliaments of Finland, Norway and Sweden, is discussing to formulate a Nordic Sami Convention which will recognize the self-determination rights of the Sami as a people and the authority of the Sami parliaments.

2. Nordic-Arctic Level

The major governing platform in the Nordic Arctic region is Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC). the Barents region’s county governors together with the representatives of indigenous peoples signed a cooperation protocol establishing the Barents Regional Council (BRC).One aim of the Barents Cooperation is an acknowledgement of the importance of indigenous/local knowledge, the ability to identify the most urgent common priorities and the capacity to carry out cross-border projects and cooperate on implementation of common programs.

Working group of indigenous peoples (WGIP) is one of ten working groups in BEAC, which is the only working group established on a permanent basis and given an advisory role to the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Regional Council. And the Chair of the WGIP as a permanent observer to the Barents Euro-Arctic Council since 2013.

WGIP has resident representatives in the formal structure of the Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation on behalf of Sami, Nenets and Veps, such as Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) and Barents Regional Committee. The main task of these representatives is to participate in forums, meetings and congress and bring issues concerning indigenous people onto the trans-regional agenda, for example, the social and economic development of the region, as well as the opportunities and problems brought by changes in the Arctic region. The second task of WGIP is to push forward a series of Action Plans for the Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region. For instance, the Action Plan of 2013-2016 contains proposed measures and projects aiming at development of the indigenous peoples’ communities and societies within the BEAR. To organize the meetings, forums and conferences concerning indigenous peoples in the Barents region is another main work of WGIP. At present, the important conference is Barents Indigenous Peoples` Congress which holds once three years.

Currently, however, the impact on the output of those WGs was less visible and there was still a lack of coordination between the WGIP policies and the output of the other WGs.

3. Arctic Level

The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues. Indigenous organizations enjoy permanent participant status in the Arctic Council; they can participate in its all conferences and sit with the government officials and discuss all issues concerning the Arctic freely. Although representatives of indigenous peoples do not have the right to vote in the Arctic Council, they can make their voices heard through the platform to promote their social and economic development. Any resolution of the Arctic Council also needs to consult with the representatives of indigenous in advance.

The Sami Council, representing the Sami people involving in the Arctic governance, is a permanent participant in the Arctic Council. The Sami Council, a grouping of Sami organizations from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, has been the most prominent pan-Sami institution. The Council aims to protect and develop the social, economic, linguistic, and cultural rights of the Sami. Protection of Sami interests also requires international co-operation, thus the Sami Council has increasingly worked internationally, especially in the UN and in the venues of Arctic and Barents regional cooperation.

The Sami Council now is pushing three important issues concerning the Sami people in the Arctic: (1) The sustainable development of reindeer farming; (2) Protecting environment in the Arctic; (3) Promoting the use of indigenous traditional knowledge in Arctic governance.

4. Conclusion

In general, the Sami's participation in local level is relatively higher than other two levels of governance. Sami's representatives are selected from the Sami parliamentary elections. They keep a close connection with the central government of concerned countries and frequently interact with the municipal government, regional government, and local government. Through these contacts and participation, all levels of government pay attention to Sami's problems and solve them.

In Nordic-Arctic region governance, The Indigenous Working Group of Barents Europe - Arctic Council has been given special status and can be represented in other working groups. Through this special institutional arrangement, the opinion of the indigenous peoples could be sent to every corner in Barents Europe - Arctic Region. Because of the lack of human resources, language constraints and other factors, there is still a long way to improve the indigenous people's participation in the governance.

The Sami Council represents the Sami people involving in the Arctic governance and Participate in the Arctic Council Working Group projects. However compared with the Inuit Circular Council (ICC), the Sami Council‘s activities in the Arctic Council are less.