By other people for your people: Arctic communities have faced centuries of cultural assimilation, remodelling their traditions and disarticulating their social organisation. Keeping in mind the historical context of the region, how can Arctic states ensure Arctic communities’ traditional ways of life are supported and respected?
Committee on Regional Development
Chaired by Micaela Lebed (NO). Covered by Valeria Kozich (BY)
Executive summary
Arctic communities today find themselves in the convergence point of various global developments: climate change, globalisation and resource extraction projects. Because of the organised dismantling of cultural traditions through centuries of colonial action, the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic are particularly vulnerable to these changes. Indigenous subsistence lifestyles involving reindeer herding, fishing and hunting are threatened by both changing environments and industrial encroachment into Indigenous land. These factors contribute to food insecurity in the Arctic and the disappearance of Indigenous knowledge and languages.

International law is one of the main arenas in which Indigenous peoples have sought to protect their rights. This has resulted in a strong set of declarations and treaties that affirm the right of Indigenous peoples to develop their cultural institutions and the responsibilities of states to support the cultural autonomy of their Indigenous populations. On the EU-level, however, legal provisions are lacking.
Listen to the audio Topic Overview
Only using terms like livelihood and culture do not do justice to the concept of reindeer herding. The reindeer makes the decisions. We follow the animals, not the other way around, just the way it’s always been.
Anders Oskal,
Director at International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry, 2021.4
The Arctic is home to four million people; of these, roughly 10% are part of Indigenous communities.1 In Europe, Indigenous communities are mostly found in the Arctic, including Sámi in Fenno-Scandinavia and Northwest Russia, Inuits in Greenland, and Khanty, Evenk and Chukchi in Russia.2 For these communities, their Indigenous status means that they are non-dominant groups that have a strong cultural and historical tie to the territories they inhabit, and have their own distinct languages, cultures and beliefs. As Indigenous people, they “resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.3" Many of these communities continue to observe traditional activities and livelihoods; they live off the land in subsistence lifestyles, continuing traditional activities such as reindeer herding, fishing, hunting and craftsmanship. These are not only forms of survival, but also ways in which Indigenous peoples remain connected to their culture, history and knowledge.
According to international law, Indigenous communities have the right to pursue traditional forms of life. Though these have historically proven to be highly resilient and adaptable, surviving centuries of extreme temperatures and colonialist encroachment, current developments in globalisation, climate change and industrial projects have put increased pressure on Indigenous livelihoods.
Subsistence generally refers to activities through which food is acquired, processed, prepared and consumed. For indigenous communities, subsistence is a source of well-being, resilience and cultural connection.
Reindeer herding is a coupled human–environment system where human communities are dependent on the reindeer and vice versa. Reindeer require large open and undisturbed pastures all year round, but shrinking pastures are making it harder to keep herds strong and healthy.
Indigenous knowledge consists of customs and practices developed over millennia that provides the holistics skills needed to survive and adapt to changing Arctic conditions. It is closely tied to language and subsistence activities. The Sámi language, for example, contains over 300 terms to describe different types of snow.
 Arctic Council (2022). Arctic Peoples
 Arctic Centre, University of Lapland (2022). Arctic Indigenous Peoples.
United Nations, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2007). Factsheet "Who are Indigenous peoples?" 
Saami Council (2021). Arctic Indigenous Peoples. 
Sanna Valkonen et. al. (2022). The Sámi World.
Cited by Sanna Valkonen et. al. (2022). The Sámi World.
Distribution of Indigenous population in the Arctic5 & Language Map of the Arctic6
Historical context
But the Crown has taken these lands away from the Sámi and given them to the settlers, and has shifted the border between the two groups bit by bit, until the part left to the Sámi has become so small that the Sámi can no longer survive on it.
Johan Turi,
Sami author, 1910.8
The experience of colonialism in Fenno-Scandinavia differs from that of other Indigenous groups. While, for example, the Americas experienced a sudden rupture in the arrival of European settlers, the process was much more gradual in Fenno-Scandinavia. Sámi peoples, for example, saw the gradual expansion of their southern neighbours into Sápmi. Over the course of the mediaeval to early modern era, land was turned to non-Sámi settlers and used for farming, mining and forestry, rendering this land unavailable to Sámi for traditional subsistence activities like hunting, fishing, and herding.7
Starting in the 1800s, Sámi became regarded as racialised others. Arctic states enforced policies of cultural assimilation explicitly aimed at creating uniform populations and eradicating Sámi culture. In Norway, for example, the policy of Norwegianization sought to reduce feelings of identity and community within minority groups while creating a stronger sense of nationalism. To this end, Sámi children were deracinated and sent to boarding schools where it was illegal to speak Sámi. Such measures were successful in widely suppressing and sometimes eradicating Sámi cultures and languages in Fenno-Scandinavia. They have, for many, resulted in deep feelings of shame and generational experiences of oppression.9

These policies began to be repealed during the 1950s, partly due to the recognition of Indigenous rights by international law mechanisms. A crucial turning point for Sámi rights in Norway came in the form of the Alta protests in the 1980s. These were a reaction to the government's plans to build a dam and hydroelectric power plant that would flood a Sámi village and disrupt reindeer herding. The protests were the biggest example of civil disobedience in Norwegian history, leading to the creation of the Sámi Parliament of Norway in 1989. The Swedish and Finnish Sámi Parliaments followed in 1993 and 1996 respectively. Sámi communities in Northwest Russia remain without political representation.
Committee on Regional Development | REGI
Measures in place
Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By that right they can freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. They have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they choose to, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the state.
FAQ on the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 200711
International law has been a key arena in which Indigenous peoples have fought for recognition. Though these treaties and documents may not be legally binding, they nevertheless carry symbolic weight by formalising the status of Indigenous peoples as participants and stakeholders. In 2007, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which establishes the fundamental right of Indigenous individuals and communities to, amongst others, self-determination and cultural expression. Among other things, the UNDRIP states that Indigenous groups should be consulted and give free, prior and informed consent (PFIC) on projects that may affect them or their land and resources.10 Today, the Declaration offers the most comprehensive framework on Indigenous rights, setting the minimum requirements for the survival and well-being of Indigenous peoples.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2013). Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples.
United Nations, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2007). FAQs on the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
 Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (2022). Indigenous Peoples.
The consent is free, given volunarily and without coercion, intimidation or manipulation.

A process that is self-directed by the community from whom consent is being sought, unencumbered by coercion, expectations or timelines that are externally imposed.

The consent is sought sufficiently in advance of any autorization or commencement of activities
The engagement and type of information that should be provided prior to seeking consent and also as part of the ongoing consent process

A collective decision made by the right holders and reached through a customary decision-making processes of the communities

Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)12
Other key documents include the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO Convention No. 169) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in particular Article 27. Significantly, the ILO Convention No. 169 establishes the responsibility of states to help Indigenous communities maintain and further develop their culture. In particular, it recognises the right of Indigenous communities to control their own institutions, livelihoods and economic development by i.a. using their own language and establishing institutions to represent them within the state in which they live. Together, these three documents represent the efforts made by Indigenous communities to seek justice in international law.13

Though the EU does have developed codes of conduct for engagement with Indigenous peoples outside of the EU, the Indigenous populations within the EU are rarely acknowledged. Even though Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU introduces the standard of non-discrimination, EU institutions lack frameworks that acknowledge the needs and interests of Indigenous communities within the EU. The European Investment Bank, for example, is not required to take into account the rights of Indigenous peoples when financing infrastructure projects that will affect Indigenous communities, such as the Arctic Railway project.14
Monica Tennberg et al. (2021). Indigenous Peoples, Natural Resources and Governance: Agencies and Interactions.
Key stakeholders
We can differentiate between three groups of actors: states, intergovernmental actors and Indigenous rights actors. Arctic states have the prerogative to legislate within their national borders. Member States cannot legislate in areas designated as shared and exclusive competencies, such as the Common fisheries policy (CFP).15 As welfare states transition and adopt neoliberal policies, Arctic states must balance pressures to follow market principles through privatisation and deregulation, while following international standards on Indigenous rights and respecting their international commitments.
Intergovernmental actors in the Arctic include the Nordic Council and the Arctic Council. In particular, the Arctic Council brings together the eight arctic states and includes six Indigenous organisations as Permanent Participants, who can influence the decisions of the Council through ‘active participation’.16 Through their Working Groups and various projects, the Council works to monitor, assess and tackle issues in the Arctic mainly related to the environment, public health and economic development.
The Saami Council and the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) are key actors that fight to establish and protect the rights of Indigenous communities. The Saami Council is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) spanning Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden. The Council meets twice a year to discuss current issues, bringing together nine organisations from across Sápmi. They work through decisions, statements, declarations and projects to, for example, gain greater recognition of Sami rights and interests in the EU.17 The UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) is an advisory body to the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which provides recommendations on Indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.
 The Saami Council (2022). The Saami Council. 
Monica Tennberg et al. (2021). Indigenous Peoples, Natural Resources and Governance: Agencies and Interactions.
Eva Maria Fjellheim (2022). Green colonialism, wind energy and climate justice in Sápmi. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).
Bjørn Lønnum Andreassen (2022). Reindeer herders want Norwegian wind farm demolished. Nordic Labour Journal.
Fundamental challenges
We call for climate justice which means finding solutions that not only reduce emissions or protect nature, but that do so in a way which creates a fairer, more just and equal world in the process. We need a platform for the green transition in which power of definition and decision-making are shared and Indigenous Peoples knowledge is valued. Then we will find solutions that will benefit the entire global community.
FAnja Márjá Nystø Keskitalo,
EU Unit Advisor for the Saami Council, 202222
We can see a throughline of continuity between the colonial struggles of the past and contemporary conflicts over the land and resources of Indigenous communities. Though, today, we have a robust set of international standards that clearly establish the principles of self-determination and land rights, in practice these standards are not fully adopted by states. Resource extraction, for example, is one of the main drivers impacting the rights and resources of Indigenous communities.18 As states move to meet climate goals, more and more industrial projects have emerged in the name of this green transition; in Fenno-Scandinavia, these often interfere with the rights of Sámi communities to engage in traditional subsistence activities such as fishing and reindeer herding. This results in green colonialism, the encroachment and destruction of Sapmi territories by green industries.19 Example of recent and ongoing controversies include the Fosen wind farm in Norway20 and the proposed Gállok mine in Sweden.21
Arctic Centre, University of Lapland (2022). Arctic Indigenous Peoples
Rasmus Kløcker Larsen et. al. (2022). The impacts of mining on Sámi lands. The Extractive Industries and Society Journal.
 Kamrul Hossain et. al. (2021). Food Security in the High North. 
The Fosen wind farm is one of Europe’s largest onshore wind farms, located on reindeer grazing land in Central Norway. In 2021, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled that the wind farm infringed on the cultural rights of Sámi people.
The Gállok mine is a proposed mining project that would see the construction of an iron mine on ancestral Sámi land, disturbing both winter grazing lands and water sources of surrounding communities.
On the other side, the climate crisis also presents acute pressures for Arctic communities and traditional livelihoods. Housing, infrastructure and transport connections are severely affected, creating a rise in maintenance costs and occasionally the need for relocation.23 For reindeer herders, changing temperatures have meant shrinking pasture areas and inconsistent migration patterns. Local populations also worry about the contamination of herds by resource extraction projects.24 This in turn has adverse effects on food security and health, as foods available in supermarkets do not meet the nutritional needs of Arctic temperatures like traditional foods do, such as reindeer meat and berries.25 In addition, the loss of traditional means of subsistence also means a loss of cultural practices and Indigenous knowledge.
In the Tråante Declaration, the Saami Council writes that “The Sami are an independent people, like other people, we have the right to our lives and to decide on matters concerning us.” Centuries of colonialism and industrial encroachment have purposefully eroded the cultural integrity and self-determination of Indigenous peoples such as the Sámi. Though international law frameworks offer hope, states and corporations today continue to disregard the rights of Indigenous peoples.

As we find ourselves on the eve of a transition into a more sustainable and equitable future, how can we ensure that historical wrongs are ended and Indigenous peoples are allowed to live their lives with dignity?
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Motion for a resolution
Submitted by:
Anna Belova (LV), Simon Gartner (AU), Monroe Hartmann (CH), Megi Karin (HR), Emma Mirzoyan (AM), Chiara Na- talini (IT), Lenny Nyoike (IE), Charlotta Olsson Byström (SE), Iga Pala (PL), Kayomi Samuels (BE), Uroš Šestović (RS), Faron Smith (UK), Fatih Kürşat Yildirim (TR), Micaela Lebed (Chairperson, NO)
The European Youth Parliament aims to rectify the historical injustices committed against the Arctic’s Indigenous People, who have struggled under colonial oppression for centuries, and enable a future of prosperous coexistence. In addition, we wish to ensure that Indigenous communities attain the right to self-determination by bolstering their contribution to policy-making and giving them control over their native land. Finally, we seek to combat the marginalisation of Indigenous communities perpetuated by Arctic States,

A. Aware that 10% of the Arctic population is made up of 40 different Indigenous ethnic groups,

B. Stressing that traditional practices are fundamental sources of employment and food security for the Arctic’s Indigenous People,

C. Deploring the long history of colonisation and oppression enacted against the Arctic’s Indigenous communities,

D. Bearing in mind that centuries of forced assimilation have eroded the presence of Indigenous cultures, causing a loss of language and Indigenous knowledge,

E. Noting with deep concern that Arctic governments continue to violate Indigenous People’s rights despite their recognition by international law,

F. Regretting that Sámi Parliaments are often not consulted in the decision-making process of their national governments,

G. Drawing attention to the lack of an internationally recognised definition for Indigenous People,

H. Noting with dissatisfaction that green industries continuously drive off Arctic Indigenous People from their land,

I. Bearing in mind that global warming threatens important wildlife and plant species found in Indigenous regions,

J. Recognising that Indigenous knowledge is empirically proven to ensure the sustained conservation of the environment,

K. Recognising that the legacy of past government policies such as Norwegianisation1 exacerbate discrimination against Indigenous People,

L. Concerned that Arctic governments are enabling the profit-driven exploitation of natural resources on Indigenous lands;
1. Invites the Arctic States to implement financial reparations towards the Arctic’s Indigenous communities, proportional to the harm done by forced assimilation policies;

2. Instructs the Directorate General on Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG-EAC) to assist Indigenous People in the promotion of their native languages and traditions by allocating funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in order to:
a. establish schools where teaching takes place in an Indigenous language,
b. create alternative educational language programs, such as workshops and courses;

3. Strongly encourages Arctic States to ratify international agreements on Indigenous rights, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169);

4. Calls upon the Council of the European Union to impose sanctions on non-EU States and entities which fail to respect the standard of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and other Indigenous rights established by the UNDRIP;

5. Requests the Directorate General for Justice and Consumers (DG-JUST) to include compliance to FPIC principles into the upcoming Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive;

6. Recommends the Arctic States of Norway, Sweden, and Finland in which historical Sápmi is located to establish a stronger cooperation between their respective Sámi Parliaments, giving them greater land ownership and fiscal autonomy;

7. Encourages the United Nations to establish an internationally recognised definition of Indigenous People;

8. Asks the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights to incorporate the protection of Indigenous rights and the right to FPIC into the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union;

9. Directs the Arctic States to allocate funding to the Saami Council to support measures that seek to reduce the impact of global warming on Arctic communities;

10. Calls upon the Arctic States to cooperate with Indigenous communities to include the history and knowledge of Indigenous People into the national school curriculum, emphasising the importance of respecting Indigenous cultures;

11. Designates the European Commission to ensure that the European Central Bank upholds and respects the FPIC principles in all of its activities and decision-making processes regarding projects on Indigenous peoples’ lands.

Norwegianisation was a policy enacted by the Norwegian government between the 19th and 20th century against the Sámi and Kven people. It sought to create a culturally and linguistically uniform nation by eradicating Indigenous cultural practices.
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