Why Indigenous Peoples Need to Be Heard in the Global Debate on the Arctic

Akureyri, Iceland–Alona Yefimenko is descended from Chukchi and Even reindeer herders in Ayanka, Kamchatka, Russia. We met up with her earlier this summer in Iceland, where she participated in the Seventh International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences (ICASS VII), organized by the International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA). More than 400 delegates gathered for ICASS VII, between them presenting some 300 papers and joining the discussions in dozens of workshops. (Watch our video interview with IASSA President Joan Nymand Larsen, discussing the highlights of ICASS VII).

In this video interview at the conference, Yefimenko explains her role as representative of the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat of the Arctic Council, and how Arctic indigenous peoples are participating in international forums to talk about not only their issues of concern, but also their language, culture, health, and traditional knowledge. “It is important for indigenous people to be at [conferences such as ICASS VII],” Yefimenko says. “It is for them and for future generations of indigenous peoples of the Arctic.”

Why then are there so few indigenous peoples representatives at the major international meetings about the Arctic? One problem is financial assistance — it can be pricey to attend an event such as the one in Iceland. But it is also important to reach out to indigenous peoples’ teachers and help with education to explain why it is important to be aware of and to take part in international discussions about the Arctic, Yefimenko says.

But lack of attention by governments and international media to the heritage of Arctic indigenous peoples is also a worry for Yefimenko. They and their culture and languages are going to disappear, she says. “Governments … are talking about other things than indigenous well-being. We talk about many things … like governance … oil and gas … but what happens if the indigenous peoples disappear from the Arctic?”

Alona Yefimenko was born and raised in a family of Chukchi and Even reindeer herders in Ayanka, Kamchatka, Russia. From 1988 to 1996, she worked as the Director of the Koryak Ethnography Museum in Palana, Kamchatka. Her experience includes fieldwork and archaeological excavations in the Koryak region of Kamchatka, training and research in Canada (DIAND/Quebec Province) and at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University.

With the establishment of the Arctic Council in 1996, she joined the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat, a support organisation for the Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations that are Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council. She has been involved in the CAFF Sacred Sites Project, the Northern Sea Route Assessment and other Arctic Council Projects.

She holds a Master’s Degree in Philology from the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia and the Far Eastern State University.

Coverage of the Seventh International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences was sponsored by the International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA) and The Christensen Fund. The video was made by Blue Lagoon Productions for National Geographic News.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Human Journey

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn