Speech by Chair of the Arctic Council, Ambassador Peter Stenlund at the World Reindeer Herders’ 2nd congress in Inari, Finland June 18-23, 2001

The Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH) has been granted observer status in the Arctic Council, which is the high-level intergovernmental forum of the Arctic countries. For me, as Chair of the Senior Arctic officials, it is very rewarding to be here at the 2nd World Reindeer Herders’ Congress in Inari, in the heartland of the Saami people in Finland.

Reindeer husbandry is both a basic industry and a way of life - the core of the Arctic identity - in many Arctic subregions. Now, as the Arctic Council is expanding its program for sustainable development, the messages from this Congress are of great value also to us. Thank you for inviting me to your congress and for giving me the opportunity to talk about Arctic Council activities that are of relevance to reindeer herding and indigenous peoples.

Mr Chairman

Arctic circumpolar co-operation was born along with the dissolution process of the Soviet Union. The new geopolitical landscape of the north offered completely new avenues for joint action in the circumpolar region. In 1989, Finland took the initiative by commencing organized cooperation among the eight Arctic countries for the protection of the arctic environment. The Arctic countries, that is to say those countries with an outreach beyond the Arctic circle, adopted The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) in 1991. In 1996 the Arctic Council was founded and the objectives of co-operation were extended to cover the whole concept of sustainable development, including its social, cultural, ecological and economic dimensions.

At the 10th Anniversary of circumpolar cooperation on environment in Rovaniemi last week, we examined gained experience and prepared an Arctic message to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa in 2002.

The structure of the Arctic Council, with all Arctic countries as Members, and the Arctic indigenous peoples participating in the work on an equal footing, enables the Council to represent this unique region with considerable legitimacy. Close contacts among the capitals and the Arctic sub-regions anchor the activities in Arctic communities. The Arctic Council is a unique international forum for co-operation between national governments and indigenous peoples - an arrangement which might serve as a model in other parts of the world.

The engagement of governments in the Arctic Council structure serves the purpose of raising awareness in their capitals of the Arctic and the challenges it faces. Better knowledge of Arctic problems is a precondition for the second role of functioning as a mouthpiece for the Arctic circumpolar region in international forums. The resolution of many Arctic concerns must be sought in the global arena.

From the point of view of reindeer husbandry, the fight against radioactive emissions is high on the agenda. The Arctic food product most vulnerable to contamination following a radioactive leak is reindeer and caribou meat.

The greatest concerns are the potential consequences of accidents in nuclear power plants, during the handling and storage of nuclear weapons, in the decommissioning of nuclear submarines and in the disposal of spent nuclear fuel from other marine vessels. The Governments of the Member States of the Arctic Council have primary responsibility for strengthening the safety of nuclear installations in the Arctic and adjacent areas. They may also offer support to each other and request assistance from relevant partners outside the Arctic.

It goes without saying that successful cooperation in this field is a crucial issue for reindeer herding across all national borders. But the unsolved question pertaining to liability is still hindering rapid progress.

The example of improving nuclear safety proves the relevance of the European Union in Arctic Affairs. The Northern Dimension Action Plan endorsed by the European Council in Feira, Portugal, in June 2000 includes priorities of high importance to the Arctic. At the Northern Dimension Ministerial in Luxembourg in April this year, Finland, in its capacity as Chair of the Arctic Council, drew attention to the Arctic agenda included in the Action Plan and called for deeper cooperation between the European Commission and the Arctic Council. We also underlined sustainable reindeer herding as a basic source of livelihood of the Saami People, the single indigenous people of the European Union.

Mr. Chairman

The Barrow Ministerial meeting last fall agreed upon a strategic framework document on sustainable development. With this foundation for further cooperation in place the economic, social and cultural aspects of sustainable development will come more into focus in the Arctic Council. Themes such as public health, telemedicine, distance learning, the future of children and youth, the role of women and sustainable infrastructure development are all linked to efforts aimed at stemming migration from Arctic regions.

As a follow-up to this strategic decision, a project on sustainable reindeer herding is already being developed in cooperation with the Association of World Reindeer Herders. You will later today receive separate reports on this and some other Arctic Council projects of relevance to reindeer herders.

This venue, the Educational Center of the Saami Area, draws our attention to a central principle in all Arctic Council activities – capacity building. Education is an important mean to raise the standard of living of reindeer herders and other people dependent on reindeer husbandry and to increase the prosperity of their communities. Vocational schools for reindeer herders' studies are developing study programs that will be applicable to all reindeer herding areas around the world. An important goal is to improve the processing of reindeer meat and other products. Introduction of new technology is essential.

The Saami Educational Center is an important knowledge center and driving force in these efforts and has initiated successful cross-border co-operation with reindeer herders in Russia, Norway and Sweden. The establishment of the vocational school in Jona at the Kola peninsula is a concrete achievement of this successful cooperation.

Dear friends

My understanding of the situation from reindeer herding’s point of view is that your work cannot be - if it ever was - done in isolation. Many parallel developments call for more interaction, nationally and internationally.

The globalization process will leave no part of the world unaffected. Adherence to global trade regimes has become a precondition for access to the most important markets of the world. The expansion of the European single market also has its consequences for the marketing of your products. The Arctic needs to raise its voice to influence these regimes so that they would better respect the traditions of indigenous and other local Arctic people.

Effective use of the internet, other modes of modern telecommunication and mass media also make local industries vulnerable to fluctuations in international public opinion and consumer reactions. These are often strongly influenced by well organized pressure groups and activists using illegal methods, as in the case of fur farming in Finland. These risks can be countered mainly in two ways. Firstly, reindeer herding as an industry must be organized to defend itself and promote its interests, at just the right time, via the internet and other modern means of communication. Secondly, the sustainability of reindeer herding must be proved to a public which is almost illiterate as regards the basics of reindeer herding. The urban public opinion sees sustainability also in relation to, for example, biodiversity and conservation, including the protection of animals at risk of extinction.

Dear friends

The Arctic Council also provides a forum for dialogue between governments and indigenous peoples on the future of reindeer herding. Observer organizations, such as The Association of World Reindeer Herders, can put forward important views from people living in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council may prove to be a useful instrument when your way of living and working is challenged by external developments.

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