The Arctic Council was established on 19 September 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration. The Ottawa Declaration lists the following countries as Members of the Arctic Council: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. In addition, six organizations representing Arctic Indigenous peoples have status as Permanent Participants. The category of Permanent Participant was created to provide for active participation and full consultation with the Arctic Indigenous peoples within the Council. They include: the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council.
The Ottawa Declaration gives the Arctic Council a broad mandate to address issues of relevance to the Arctic Region and its peoples. During its first 20 years, the Arctic Council focused much of its work on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Since its establishment, it has produced many landmark studies on topics important in this unique region, including climate change, environmental pollutants, shipping, tourism, safety and search-and-rescue, biodiversity of flora and fauna, oil pollution response, human health, indigenous languages, and much more. It has also provided a forum for the negotiation of two binding agreements among the eight Arctic states. The first, signed in 2011, addresses search-and-rescue in the Arctic. The second, signed in 2013, addresses oil pollution preparedness.
The Arctic Council has also helped to maintain the Arctic as a zone of peace and stability. In the 2013 “Vision for the Arctic”, Ministers of the Arctic States wrote: “We are confident that there is no problem that we cannot solve together through our cooperative relationships on the basis of existing international law and good will.” This commitment is also affirmed by the Ministerial Declarations from Nuuk (2011), Kiruna (2013) and Iqaluit (2015), in each of which Ministers of Arctic States recognized “the importance of maintaining peace, stability, and constructive cooperation in the Arctic.”