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“The voices of the Indigenous Peoples have to be heard”: An interview with Hjalmar Dahl

Hjalmar Dahl is the President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Greenland and currently the Chair of the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat’s (IPS) board. In this interview, he speaks about his background, the role of the Indigenous Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council, the time it takes for change to happen on institutional levels and to what extent the Council is a family like any other.

Could you tell us something about your background?

I started to work for the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Greenland and on Indigenous issues back in 1981. So, I can celebrate my 40-year anniversary this year – including spending one year in Geneva, working at the United Nations’ Center for Human Rights. Throughout these years and prior to getting engaged in the work of the Arctic Council, I coordinated ICC Greenland’s participation at the UN. I have for example been involved in the development of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; a drafting period which spanned approximately 25 years, before it was approved by the UN General Assembly in 2007. This experience taught me that the United Nations is not a place where you can change things from one day to the other.

Regarding my educational and personal background, I’m a pedagogue and I have worked with youth for many years and later reeducated in communications. I’m from Greenland and I have a daughter and three grandsons.

Photo: Jouni Porsanger / Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Since when have you been involved in the work of the Arctic Council?

I was elected Council member of ICC International in 2010 and President of ICC Greenland since 2014, this is when I started to attend Arctic Council meetings as well. ICC has of course been an active organization and Permanent Participant in the Council’s work since its beginnings and various people have been engaged in its work over the years. Currently, I am also chairing the board of the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat (IPS), which I will continue to do until ICC Greenland’s next General Assembly in July 2022 when new Chair and Council members are elected. I might continue after that but I’m turning 70 this year and it’s time to start stepping down somewhat – but things can change and I’m still healthy and happy to continuously to contribute in this important work.

How would do you describe the role of the Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council?

I feel that the establishment of the Arctic Council was a exceptional necessity. It is important that the Arctic States work together to talk about and act on the protection of the Arctic environment and towards sustainable development. This is especially crucial in the face of climate change. One state alone cannot implement Arctic policies, the wind and ocean circulations don’t respect national borders. The Arctic is one entity and it’s very important to address Arctic issues holistically.

When the Council was established, it was decided to include the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic and while it was a compromise, they got a seat at the table as Permanent Participants and that was magnificent. The voices of the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic have to be heard and this is happening in the Arctic Council framework.

However, now that the Arctic Council is celebrating its 25th anniversary, we need to think about the next two and a half decades. In my view, the role of the Permanent Participants has to be discussed further. We want a meaningful engagement in the Arctic Council, but we do for example not have a vote. I think, this is an issue that needs to be reviewed.

What are some of the most important tasks for the IPS during your time as Chair of the board?

The main task of the IPS is to support the Permanent Participants work in the Arctic Council and I think that more Permanent Participants should make use of the IPS than is the case today. The IPS gathers information on issues that concern Indigenous Peoples from around the world and we get this information also through the IPS. At the same time, it’s important to mention that the IPS cannot do anything on behalf and without consent of the six Permanent Participants. While I think the IPS is developing well, we may still need to improve the IPS and how it is able to support us on a daily basis. The secretariat for example needs funding for more staff, especially as the Arctic receives increased interest from actors around the world.

What are you most looking forward during your term as Chair of the board?

I like and am committed to working for the Arctic Council. I have many friends and it feels like a big and good family. I’m always looking forward to going to Arctic Council meetings and events, meeting the other Permanent Participants, State representatives and staff. We are a robust family and of course just like any other family, things and issues always need to be improved and talked about.