Russian Chairmanship’s Envoy for Indigenous and Regional Cooperation: “As an outcome of this cooperation, life on the ground should become better”

7 December 2021
For the first time in the Council’s history, the Russian Chairmanship has appointed special envoys to address issues that are of particular importance during its two-year term. This team of advisers include a Youth Envoy for International Cooperation in the Arctic – Mikhail Uksusov, whom we recently introduced – as well as a Special Envoy for Indigenous and Regional Cooperation, Dr. Mikhail Pogodaev, whom we are looking forward to introducing here.

Dr. Pogodaev comes from a reindeer herding family of the Even people, he holds a PhD in economics, and since 2019 he is the deputy minister for Arctic development and Indigenous Peoples affairs in the Sakha Republic. In other words: he brings both exceptional experience and a busy schedule to the role. Learn more about Dr. Pogodaev’s background, his tasks as special envoy and his vision for Arctic cooperation.

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You have been appointed the Russian Chairmanship’s Special Envoy for Indigenous and Regional Cooperation. Could you describe what this role will entail?

I was appointed by the Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, Ambassador Nikolay Korchunov, as the Chairmanship’s Special Envoy for Indigenous and Regional Cooperation. My role will be to guide and strengthen the diplomatic channels between Arctic Council Permanent Participants and the leadership of the Russian Chairmanship, and to provide contact and regional cooperation for the Arctic Council within Russia.

The peoples of the Arctic and issues they are facing are important topics for the Russian Chairmanship and it is one of its priorities to enhance cooperation between these peoples. That is why Ambassador Korchunov always stresses that Indigenous Peoples should have a strong voice in the Arctic Council, and that Permanent Participants should have their own projects where they can work together on issues that are important for Arctic peoples.

The Russian Chairmanship also emphasizes regional cooperation and people-to-people cooperation. The reason why I was appointed as special envoy is probably because I also have experience in this field. I have been working as the executive director of the Northern Forum, an international organization of sub-national and regional northern governments, which was established in 1991 in Alaska. I have also served as Chair for the Association of World Reindeer Herders, as an international NGO/ CSO for nomadic Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic. So, I think that I am well positioned to support the Chairmanship with my expertise on Indigenous and regional issues.

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Could you talk a bit more about your background and how you will be able to draw on your experiences and knowledge for the role as Special Envoy?

I was born into a reindeer herding family in the Sakha Republic, Yakutia, in a village called Topolinoe situated in the Verkhoyansk mountains. I am Even, and our people live in the northern, far eastern part of Siberia. All my childhood, I spent in my reindeer herding family and we still have a reindeer herd. So, I try to help my relatives whenever I can. When I have free time, I always to go to my home place, to our camp in the mountains, and work with reindeer, hunt and fish, and lead a traditional way of life.

In 2001, I graduated from St Petersburg State University in economics and finance and in 2007, I also defended my PhD at this university. After my graduation, I worked as a senior advisor at the Permanent Representation of the Sakha Republic in St. Petersburg and at the same time I was actively engaged in the work of the Association of World Reindeer Herders (AWRH), an organization fostering international cooperation between reindeer herders. From 2009 to 2019, I served as the Chair of the Board and as AWRH is an Observer to the Arctic Council, this was also the time when I started to get involved in the work of the Arctic Council and its Working Groups.

In 2019 I was invited by the President of the Sakha Republic to serve as the deputy minister for Arctic development and Indigenous Peoples affairs.

So, I think that my experience and knowledge gained from cooperation and work in the Association of World Reindeer Herders and the Northern Forum will help me to fulfill my duties in this new capacity and to contribute to strengthening cooperation in the Arctic Council on Indigenous Peoples issues and regional relations.

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One of your tasks will be to contribute to implementing the Arctic Council’s strategic plan, especially Strategic Action 4.9 on cooperation between Arctic regions and people-to-people contact. Can you already share how will you approach this task?

When I was appointed, I developed a workplan in consultation with the Chairmanship and RAIPON, and all my activities in this workplan refer to the Strategic Plan of the Arctic Council and the Reykjavik Declaration. These documents outline a wide range of priorities, which are in line with the responsibilities of my position as special envoy to strengthen the Permanent Participants’ role in Arctic Council.

First of all, my task is to promote and support people-to-people cooperation in the Arctic Council. This is by the way also explicitly anchored the new Russian Arctic strategy. I have worked and traveled throughout all Arctic countries and Russian Arctic regions, so I have gained knowledge and experience, which I think will be beneficial for this task. When you travel in different countries and regions, you also discover that many challenges across the Arctic are similar. You see best practices and different approaches to how people deal with challenges related to climate change, economic and social issues. Many challenges in the Arctic can best be solved by cooperation, using all available knowledge.

For Indigenous Peoples it is especially important to share experiences and best practices, to learn from each other. During the Russian Chairmanship, we will provide a wide range of different events that will bring Indigenous Peoples together, as well as representatives of regional governments and civil society, scientists and media. I hope that visits to Russian Indigenous communities will give people energy to increase the cooperation with us.

At the upcoming Senior Arctic Officials’ meeting in Salekhard in December, I presented my work on a report on local economies and traditional livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples; a summary of experiences from the Russian Arctic, which I think will be interesting for the Permanent Participants. Another report I will work on concerns digitalization in the Arctic, what kind of challenges Indigenous Peoples face in the age of digitalization, how we can adapt and what practices we currently have in the Russian Arctic.

The intention of the Russian Chairmanship in the Arctic Council is to support projects of Permanent Participants on their efforts to preserve traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples on their own terms and needs. The Russian Federation together with the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and Norway for example lead a project on Digitalization of the Linguistic and Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic. Moreover, one of the main priorities here is to protect Indigenous Peoples intellectual property rights when it comes to traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, native languages, folklore etc. according to the international standards. This work is conducted in close cooperation with Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council, World Intellectual Property Organization, UNESCO and other relevant partners. Russia together with RAIPON, Canada and Finland is working to continue the Children of the Arctic project, which is dealing with the education for Indigenous children in the North.

We also participate in the Arctic resilience project with special focus on permafrost thaw. This is a very important challenge for Indigenous Peoples, especially in the Russian Federation where we already see how changes in the permafrost threaten traditional livelihoods, settlements, and infrastructures. In addition, there are ideas from the Russian Chairmanship’s side to develop projects on traditional medicine of Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic and Creative Industries of Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic.

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What are you looking forward to in your new role?

For me I am delighted to invite Arctic Council participants to the Russian Arctic to learn more about each other and strengthen future cooperation for a sustainable Arctic.

We will focus on environmental, social and economic challenges but also the opportunities and positive changes, to show experiences and successes. We need to emphasize and share best practices that can be replicated in other places. I hope that we will develop projects that engage all Permanent Participants and strengthen the role of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic Council and in Arctic cooperation at large.

We need to work on Arctic standards – for education, health systems, transportation, food production etc., that align with Arctic realities. I think it is our role to develop recommendations that further develop national standards.

The Russian Chairmanship’s main focus will be on enhancing sustainability, resilience and viability of the Arctic communities, climate change adaptation measures, improving the well-being, health, education, quality of life of the Arctic inhabitants, as well as ensuring sustainable socio-economic development in the region. Promotion of scientific, educational and cultural exchanges, tourism and contacts between peoples and regions will also be high on its agenda. Special attention is given to the preservation of linguistic and cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples of the Arctic, to the youth cooperation across the borders.

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Are there specific things you would like to achieve during the Russian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council?

We hope that we will strengthen the cooperation between Indigenous Peoples organizations and develop projects that will make a difference for Arctic Indigenous communities. I believe as an outcome of this cooperation, life on the ground should become better, Indigenous Peoples should become stronger, and their capacities should increase. I would also like to engage our youth and develop education and training programs. So, summarizing, I hope that we will have stronger Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, Permanent Participants, youth, and Arctic Indigenous communities.

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