Flags of the six Permanent Participant organizations
Flags of the six Permanent Participant organizations

Establishing the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat

1 September 2023
Supporting the Cooperation of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples
”The establishment of the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat was a huge and necessary historic achievement in order to facilitate the needs of the Peoples of the Arctic.” Hjalmar Dahl, ICC Greenland President 2014-2022 and Chair of the IPS Board 2021-2023

The Indigenous Peoples Secretariat (IPS) is an independent unit within the Arctic Council Secretariat (ACS) with its own Governing Board, budget and work plan. It was recognized in the 1996 Ottawa Declaration, the founding document of the Council. In 2016, the IPS moved from Copenhagen to Tromsø to be co-located with the ACS. Ever since, the two secretariats have worked closely together, while operating under their respective mandates and serving the Council in their designated ways. The IPS predates its sister secretariat by almost two decades. This is the story of the IPS and its establishment, move to Tromsø and vision for the future.

Establishment of the IPS

The story of the IPS started in Nuuk, Greenland, in 1993 during the second Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS). During the meeting, the Minister for the Environment of the Kingdom of Denmark supported the creation of special program area for Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and the establishment of a secretariat to support their work. The IPS started its operations in December 1994 when the Arctic States opened up the AEPS organizational structure for cooperative action amongst the Saami Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC).

The official opening of the IPS took place on 16 February 1995, with a reception hosted by the Greenland Home Rule Denmark Office in Copenhagen. The IPS and the Indigenous Peoples’ organizations fought hard to include Indigenous voices into the structure of the Arctic Council when it was established the following year. As a result of this work, Indigenous Peoples became a central part of the Council.

The 1996 Ottawa Declaration recognized the IPS, stating that “the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat established under AEPS is to continue under the framework of the Arctic Council”. And so, after the AEPS Senior Arctic Officials’ meeting in Norway in June 1997 , the AEPS Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat became the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat, which continued to be hosted by and co-housed with the Greenland Home Rule Denmark Office in Copenhagen until its relocation to Tromsø, Norway, in 2016.

“IPS’ primary role was to assist the three Indigenous Peoples’ organizations to fully participate in the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy process where they held a special status granted in Nuuk…. That time there was an urgent need for a secretariat which could provide better coordination and communication among the three Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, identify information needs, archive and fundraise.” Alona Yefimenko, IPS Advisor 1995-2020
IPS’ first Executive Secretary, Nils Ole Gaup (from Norwegian side of Sápmi) with a representative of the Greenland government in the IPS inauguration in 1994 in Copenhagen. The Greenland government’s Representation office in Copenhagen offered many in-kind services for the IPS, including office space.

Relocation from Copenhagen to Tromsø

In 2016, the IPS moved from Copenhagen to Tromsø. The discussion of relocation had started much earlier, and it had been a part of the general discussion of the establishment of the ACS in Tromsø. “Norway flagged early in the process that they were prepared to host the ACS in Tromsø, which then started discussions on the possible relocation of the IPS,” said Elle Merete Omma, IPS Executive Secretary in 2014-2017, who was hired to follow up on the relocation of the IPS from Copenhagen to Tromsø.

For PPs, the IPS’ independence has always been crucial and they didn’t want to jeopardize it in the relocation process. With the relocation, the IPS became a unit at the ACS, but remained independent with its own Governing Board, budget and work plan. Sharing the office with the ACS brought synergies between the two secretariats and strengthened communication, for example, simply by informally sharing information over coffee, as Elle Merete underlined.

The IPS funding and the ability to fundraise were the other key discussion points during the IPS relocation negotiations, which continue to be a high priority today. While the ACS is funded through contributions by all eight Arctic States, only Norway and the Kingdom of Denmark jointly fund the IPS since its relocation, providing equal funding to the IPS administrative budget. In various Council meetings, PPs and the Chair of the IPS Board have acknowledged the generosity of Kingdom of Denmark and Norway in terms of the IPS funding. According to Elle Merete, during relocation negotiations, PPs highlighted that the funding of the IPS should be equally divided among all the Arctic States. The consensus on this matter has not been found at the SAO level. Additionally, in the relocation negotiations, Indigenous representatives also brought up that the ability to fundraise would enable the IPS to better support Indigenous Peoples’ organizations , and this way to fulfil its functions, such as raising the capacity of PPs.

“The independence of the IPS was very important. And it still is! One of the questions was if this relocation and incorporation into ACS would affect the independence of IPS. From the outside, it still seems pretty independent.” John Crump, ICC Canada Senior Policy Advisor, IPS Executive Secretary 2002-2005
“If only two States are to fund the IPS with quite limited budgets, that will mean that the IPS should then be able to fundraise for other projects…. In the negotiations, we came to an agreement that the IPS fundraising was allowed and accepted.” Elle Merete Omma, Head of EU Unit of Saami Council, IPS Executive Secretary 2014-2017
“In 2012, the executive committee including representatives from Aleut International Association, Gwich’in Council International, Norway and Kingdom of Denmark was mandated to identify models to relocate IPS and revise IPS Terms of Reference and Procedural Guidelines. In 2014, the IPS Board reached consensus on the revised documents… It has been important for the IPS Board to keep the independence of IPS. At the same time, the revision of the Terms of Reference has identified the need for clarification of the status of the IPS.” Alona Yefimenko, IPS Advisor 1995-2020

IPS Supports Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations

The functions of the IPS are broad to ensure versatile support for PPs. The IPS:

  • Facilitates PPs’ participation in, and enhances their capacity to contribute to, the Arctic Council;
  • helps with communication among PPs and between PPs and other subsidiary bodies of the Council
  • supports PPs’ actions to maintain and promote the sustainable development of Indigenous Peoples’ cultures
  • gathers and disseminates information on different forms of knowledge, including Traditional Knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, communicates information about the Council, etc.

As one of the capacity-building activities, the IPS offers internships for students and young professionals of the Arctic States. According to former IPS interns, Jennelle Doyle (2018), and Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan (2005), the internship was a great learning experience that has helped build their careers.

From the early years, the IPS has served as a center of communication among Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, helping with cross-cultural communication. The IPS has lived through and adjusted to the changes that digitalization has brought. The IPS provided online meeting support from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, a factor that has sped up digital transformation and led to the adaptation of new technologies. Since then, most of the PP Caucuses – PPs’ informal meetings – have taken place online. PPs have different support needs and the IPS activities are tailored to and guided by PPs. That’s the case in the past and going forward.

“I feel that IPS is a necessary platform for PPs to facilitate contacts between Indigenous Peoples organizations themselves, but also with Arctic Council Member States.” Hjalmar Dahl, ICC Greenland President 2014-2022 and Chair of the IPS Board 2021-2023
“The activities of the Secretariat are always guided by the needs of the Permanent Participants. It’s important to provide a platform and it’s something that the IPS has been good at over the decades. It’s providing a platform to bring people from different parts of the planet together to have conversations.” John Crump, ICC Canada Senior Policy Advisor, IPS Executive Secretary 2002-2005

The Future of Indigenous Cooperation in the Arctic

Some of the joint priorities of the Indigenous organizations are Indigenous youth engagement and Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ cooperation. In 2020, PPs strengthened their Indigenous youth engagement by establishing PP Youth Network. The IPS has supported many PP youth activities, such as the PP Youth Arctic Council’s 25th Anniversary Storytelling Initiative, for example by assisting with multimedia workshops and online meetings of the PP Youth Network. Youth engagement and capacity building contribute to the future Arctic Indigenous cooperation by training future leaders.

Throughout the years, the IPS, together with Indigenous organizations, has implemented various courses and training programs for Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. “International Introductory Course: The Arctic Council and the Role of the Permanent Participants” in Moscow, Russia, in 2018; and a virtual training program “Cultural Documentation and Intellectual Property Management for Indigenous Peoples” in 2021 could serve as examples. IPS also assisted with other training initiatives, such as 2022-2023 International Workshop and Course on Indigenous Youth Leadership in Arendal, Norway and at the Harvard Kennedy School and Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, USA, and other programs.

“It is up to the PPs to do the next step and see where they can take IPS. It is like taking it to the next level, which could strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ cooperation in the Arctic…. There are so many opportunities, and in that context, the IPS perhaps could be the vehicle to take Indigenous Peoples’ relations in the Arctic to the next stage and phase. Let’s see how the structure can be used to ensure that our sisters and brothers, also on the Russian side, are not forgotten about, even though, at the moment it’s difficult.” Elle Merete Omma, Head of EU Unit of Saami Council, IPS Executive Secretary 2014-2017
“That pause has been detrimental to us in many ways, but it doesn’t have to continue to be that way. We can find solutions and ways to continue to collaborate and have discussions with one another while also having respect and integrity.” Deenaalee Hodgon, Youth Representative of Arctic Athabaskan Council

The Arctic Council Permanent Participants have expressed their commitment to continue working towards stronger participation of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic Council. Throughout the years, PPs have worked to ensure that the IPS is strengthened and thrives in fulfilling its mandate to support PPs. The IPS has had an important role in facilitating Arctic Indigenous cooperation and that role will continue in the future.

Youth participants in the 2022 International Workshop on Indigenous Youth Leadership in Arendal, Norway.
Youth participants in the 2022 International Workshop on Indigenous Youth Leadership in Arendal, Norway.
: Chair of the IPS Board 2021-2023 Hjalmar Dahl, and the IPS staff, Executive Secretary Anna Degteva and Advisor RosaMáren Magga.