As more scientists, policymakers, industrial developers and mariners head north into the warming and melting Arctic, some of the region’s Indigenous people have developed standards for how the visitors should operate respectfully and collaboratively.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing Inuit people from Greenland to Chukotka in the Russian Far East, last week released a set of protocols intended to ensure that Indigenous people have more say in what happens in their homeland.
The ICC’s Circumpolar Inuit Protocols on Equitable and Ethical Engagement, was developed over three years, said Carolina Behe, a science and Indigenous knowledge advisor with the organization’s Alaska affiliate. But the motivation for the protocols began much earlier, she said.
Over many years, Inuit residents have chafed at “the heavy, heavy top-down” approach to scientific research and other activities, Behe said. There have been persistent complaints, for example, about researchers coming to the Arctic, doing their projects, leaving and then never communicating with the residents in any follow-up, she said.
“Over and over, the point came up about lack of engagement,” she said.
The protocols are intended to protect Inuit rights, including intellectual rights, as activity in the Arctic intensifies, said ICC officials from Alaska.
“We persist with the call for all others to recognize our status, rights, and role in relation to every issue of concern to us,” Dalee Sambo Dorough, the organization’s international chair and a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said in a statement.
“As the first inhabitants and stewards of the Arctic, we have the right and responsibility to protect our environment and culture,” James Stotts, president of ICC Alaska, said in the statement. “Our knowledge must be relied upon to inform decision-making in all matters.”
The protocols are divided into eight categories. They include guidance for building partnerships, sharing data, co-producing knowledge, practicing good governance and distributing funding.
In the category of communication, for example, there are specific pieces of advice, such as: “Listen more than you speak.” The communications category also lists the Arctic’s Inuit as the experts on local safety whose guidance should be followed. In the category of funding, there is a call to prioritize local hiring and to adequately and fairly pay local people.
“Inuit need to be compensated for our knowledge, expertise, time, and labor. Agree upon appropriate compensation before work begins,” the document says.
In the scientific community, there is increasing attention to collaboration with the Indigenous people of Alaska and the Arctic.
The National Science Foundation’s Navigating the New Arctic initiative is one program that is putting a recently strengthened emphasis on community engagement and co-production of knowledge. The program funds and manages numerous research projects, with a series of Arctic operating principles intended to be applicable to each project.
The ICC’s newly released protocols, however, go beyond such specific research projects and beyond the category of scientific research entirely, Behe said. They are applicable to local people’s relationships with industries, with government agencies and with international organizations like the Arctic Council and United Nations, she said.