The Arctic Council held its eighth meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this past week. While news headlines covering results of the meeting have focused on the observer status position that China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea were granted – as well as the adoption of the Council’s Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic - closer examination of the outcomes documents reveal further attempts by state governments to evade the implementation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as outlined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Noted aspirations, such as the “active participation and full consultation of Arctic Indigenous Peoples Organizations” in the Council’s Vision for the Arctic or the US’ assertion that it will “account for indigenous communities”, in its newly released National Strategy for the Arctic Region, by “engaging in a consultation process with Alaska Natives, recognizing tribal governments’ unique legal relationship with the United States and providing for meaningful and timely policy affecting Alaskan native communities” is NOT the same as ensuring that that Free, Prior and Informed consent be obtained with regards to matters effecting Arctic indigenous nations. While consultation with indigenous nations may indicate engaging in dialogue – certainly an important diplomatic step -- it does not imply granted permission.
The UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples outlines the proper implementation of FPIC: “The element of ‘free’ implies no coercion, intimidation or manipulation; ‘prior’ implies that consent be obtained in advance of the activity associated with the decision being made, and includes the time necessary to allow Indigenous Peoples to undertake their own decision-making processes; ‘informed’ implies that Indigenous Peoples have been provided all information relating to the activity and that that information is objective, accurate and presented in a manner and form understandable to Indigenous Peoples; and ‘consent’ implies that Indigenous Peoples have agreed to the activity that is the subject of the relevant decision.”
So what would FPIC look like in the Arctic Region? It would respect the local governance and decision-making processes and structures of Arctic indigenous nations, occur in their languages, be on Arctic indigenous people’s time frames, and be free of coercion and threat. Ultimately, Arctic indigenous nations would be the judges on whether the consent-obtaining process had been inclusive and meaningful.