Increased status for indigenous peoples in the Barents cooperation?

The First Barents Indigenous Peoples Congress was arranged in a frosty Kirkenes in the beginning of February 2010 in the middle of a myriad of Barents Spektakel events and conferences. About 60 delegates representing the Saami, Nenets and Veps gathered in the Aurora Cinema for a full day of discussions on the status of indigenous peoples within the Barents cooperation structure.

The delegates of the First Barents Indigenous Peoples Congress. Photo:

On February 4th 2010 the First Barents Indigenous Peoples Congress convened in Kirkenes to discuss the representation of the indigenous peoples. 

The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP) is the current body that represents the Saami, Nenets and Veps in the Barents cooperation. The WGIP has consultative status to both the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) and the Barents Regional Council (BRC) – the national and regional level of the Barents cooperation.

The delegates of the congress looked to the status of indigenous peoples in the Arctic Council structure, where indigenous peoples have a status as Permanent Participants. This status entitles the indigenous peoples to direct representation in the Arctic Council instead of indirect representation through a working group which is the case in the Barents cooperation.

The Barents Indigenous Peoples Congress agreed on a draft resolution stating that the Saami, Nenets and Veps are entitled to the right to self-determination which should first and foremost be achieved by them each being granted full and active participation within the BEAC and BRC as Permanent Participants. This would constitute a stronger representation of indigenous peoples in BEAC than compared to the Arctic Council, but it would be in line with recent developments in international law concerning indigenous peoples’ rights.

The draft resolution has been approved by the Saami, Nenets and Vepsian indigenous organizations during the spring and by the WGIP in June 2010 and it has now been forwarded to the Barents structure for discussion.

An interesting development of the issue can be expected, since the resolution suggests principal changes that would require high-level decisions within the Barents structure. An upgrade of the indigenous peoples’ status is needed and called for but the full extent of the upgrade might not be evident until the 13th BEAC Foreign Ministerial Meeting in 2011.