The overall theme of the Arctic forum is sustainable development, mostly viewed from the point of view of both international and national law and different non-binding regulations. Within the sustainability discourse, this year more than earlier, local people’s including indigenous peoples’ role, rights and needs were discussed. Interestingly, similar approach has been adopted by new funding call by the Nordic Council of Ministers that emphasize “a people first –approach”.

Arctic legal forum, organized and funded by Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, started in 2011 with an international atmosphere and many international representatives including scholars and decision-makers, and organizations. Now, four years later, to my surprise, the participants were mostly Russians. I am not aware how many different foreign institutions were invited, but we got invitations both to University of Arctic, and Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. Dr. Leena Heinämäki, a vice chair of the Thematic Network on Arctic Law, was representing both just mentioned institutes. Besides telling about UArctic and Thematic Network, her presentation focused on indigenous peoples’ contribution to the sustainability discourse in the Arctic. In Arctic countries, indigenous peoples’ role is emphasized in nearly all semi-legal and political documents, strategies and plans, but practical involvement that indigenous communities find meaningful, still often lack in local levels. In Russia, for instance, indigenous peoples’ rights are regulated in national legislation. Yet, implementation is insufficient if not totally lacking. Finland, to this respect, cannot be proud of its own relationship with the Sámi People. There has been several attempts to reform the national legislation towards stronger participatory rights of the Sámi, but so far, they all have failed or has been postponed.

In theoretical and rhetorical level, Arctic countries are declaring the significant role that indigenous peoples play in all sustainability discourse. The next step would be to increase the decision-making powers of indigenous peoples in national and local levels related to their traditional lands and ways of life that are closely connected to the preservation of the Arctic nature, and thus keeping it sustainable for the future generations.

Leena Heinämäki
Vice-chair of the UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Law, Senior Researcher, The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland.