RUSTON, Louisiana — The Arctic is a vast and diverse region of the globe that is home to around one million Indigenous people. It covers the northern parts of Canada, Greenland, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the USA. Approximately 9% of the Arctic’s total population is Indigenous with Canada and Greenland having the highest Indigenous populations. Over the past few decades, environmental and social issues have increased the poverty rate and doubled food insecurity and land loss among Indigenous people in the Arctic.
A Quick Glance: Canada
The Indigenous people of Canada are facing numerous problems as a result of food insecurity and poverty. According to Canada’s 2016 Population Census, 24% of the urban Indigenous population lives under the poverty line and 38% lives with “food insecurity. One study found that Indigenous people in Canada are five to six times more likely to suffer from food insecurity than the Canadian national average.” The Inuit, Metis and First Nations communities rely on hunting, gathering and fishing for food. However, due to climate change and habitat loss, the Indigenous communities are forced to find new ways to find food in an already decimated environment.
A Quick Glance: Russia
There are more than 180 ethnic peoples in Russia; however, only “40 are officially recognized as indigenous.” Russia’s Indigenous population faces similar struggles as its neighboring countries. However, one of the biggest struggles facing the Indigenous people is the dispute over land and natural resource rights.
In 2017, Russia’s government changed its fishing regulations, making it harder for Indigenous people to fish freely. According to IWGIA, the new regulations require Indigenous people to go through a tiring application process and accept additional restrictions in specific regions “where fishing is big business.” These regulations only worsen the poverty and food crisis among the Indigenous people.
A Quick Glance: Greenland
As of July 2020, Greenland’s Indigenous Inuit people made up the majority of the total population. Around 88% or 56,367 Inuits reside in Greenland and “consist of three major groups:” The Kalaallit of West Greenland, the Tunumi- it of Tunu (East Greenland) and the Inughuit/Avanersuarmiut of Northern Greenland.
One of the biggest challenges facing Greenland’s Indigenous people today is the mining of uranium, as IWGIA reported. The pro-mining faction argues that the mining of uranium will bring jobs to Greenland. Those who argue against it say that the environmental and health challenges are too risky to take.
International Work Group For International Affairs
The International Work Group for International Affairs (IWGIA) mission is simple, “We work for a world where Indigenous Peoples’ voices are heard and their rights are implemented.” Anthropologists founded IWGIA in 1968. The organization advocates for the rights of all Indigenous people through “documentation, empowerment and advocacy.”
“In 2018, IWGIA has worked with more than 42 strategic and project partners,” including European Network for Indigenous Peoples (ENIP) and the Working Group on Human Rights and Climate Change (WG HRCC). Below are two strategies the IWGIA is implementing through 2025 to help Indigenous people globally and in the Arctic.
Triangle of Change
As stated in IWGIA Strategy 2021-2025, the Triangle of Change strategy focuses on work in three areas: Documentation, Advocacy and Empowerment. First, by documenting human rights violations that Indigenous people experience, IWGIA raises awareness to the general public and works to provide a safe space for the victims. Secondly, advocating and lobbying for policy at the “local, national and international levels” encourages Indigenous people to get involved in government and pass policies that better assist their communities. Finally, the TTC empowers Indigenous people to organize within their communities to claim their rights to resources and territories.
Territorial Governance Program
The Territorial Governance Program focuses on strengthening the argument for Indigenous people’s self-governance and their land autonomy, according to IWGIA Strategy 2021-2025. It also promotes Indigenous people’s territorial autonomy as a form of self-determination. Additionally, the TGP encourages and welcomes dialogue with international governments and other NGOs for the recognition and support of Indigenous governments.
The clock is ticking not just for the Indigenous people in the Arctic but for all Indigenous people across the globe. Climate change, poverty and a multitude of issues are contributing to the rapid decline of both Indigenous people’s population and the loss of their land. IWGIA is continuing to take the steps necessary in addressing this humanitarian crisis.
– Sal Huizar