Indigenous Peoples and Change in the Arctic:
Adaptation, Adjustment and Empowerment

Arctic peoples face numerous environmental, social, economic and cultural challenges. For centuries Indigenous Peoples have had to adjust to changes brought about by colonialism, incorporation into nation states, loss of economic and political control. These changes have all come from outside and to a large extent Indigenous Peoples have adapted to them. The fact that indigenous cultures, language and economies continue to survive in the Arctic is a testimony to cultural resilience and strength. Indeed, the settlement of land rights in many Arctic countries and the increasingly effective role Arctic peoples are taking on the international stage are clear evidence to the contrary.

Contemporary Indigenous leaders have identified current global challenges as potential threats to their continued survival as peoples. Among these challenges are climate change, the impact of contaminants on the food chain, and the need to create conditions for sustainable development. This theme attempts to capture some of the key aspects of the challenges Indigenous Peoples face across the Arctic.

Indigenous leaders of to-day have seen that despite the land rights and rights to self-government, the dependency built up over the years is not easy to get rid of. The administrative, judicial and religious systems still prevail and the indigenous peoples have to adapt to these in order to implement their own entitlements. These situations are readily obvious everywhere you encounter those “new” systems.

All studies need to be grounded in historical experience as seen from the point of view of Indigenous Peoples. The research will necessarily give a central place to indigenous knowledge in order to assess the history of Indigenous Peoples and how they have coped with social and cultural change in regions as diverse as Arctic Russia, the Aleutian Islands, northern Canada, Greenland and Scandinavia. While the detail of history may vary, the processes with Indigenous societies have had to cope – exploration, trading, colonization, relocation and centralization, industrialization, decolonisation – are similar everywhere. This analysis is also expected to open up an important discussion on the role of Traditional Knowledge and intellectual property rights.

Since this is such a potentially broad topic, research will focus on three key challenges:

1. The impacts and adjustments being brought about by climate change;
2. The effect of contaminants on food chains and its link to Indigenous Peoples’ health and cultural survival; and
3. The link between self-determination, land rights and access to resources.