New head of indigenous cooperation in the Barents Region
The Barents cooperation’s Working Group of Indigenous Peoples has elected a new leader – Christina Henriksen, Saami from Norway. She points out international cooperation and its permanent funding as two of her main objectives in her work.
The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP) consists of Saami from the four Barents countries Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and the indigenous peoples Nentsy and Veps from Russia.
Christina Henriksen (31) comes from Kirkenes in Finnmark and represents the party Norwegian Saami Association in the Norwegian Saami Parliament. She has also worked as an advisor on indigenous issues in the Barents Secretariat and secretary for the WGIP, which made her qualified to lead the group for the next two years.
WGIP has a unique role in the Barents cooperation with permanent representation in important forums like the Barents Council, the Regional Council and the Council of Senior Officials.
Fighting for permanent funding
In celebration speeches the indigenous peoples are acclaimed for their traditional knowledge about the Barents Region and Arctic issues. But still 2013 was a turbulent year for the working group. WGIP was for some time forced to put down all activities as a result of lack of financing from the national states. Today only Norway contributes with an annual grant to the working group. Sweden and Finland contribute sporadically, while Russian has never funded any of the working group’s activities.
“One of the main targets will be to obtain a permanent funding of the group’s activities where all four states, including Russia, will have a responsibility”, Henriksen says to BarentsObserver.
She thinks it is unworthy to have to have to ask for money every year to a job that Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia all say is important.
The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples is the only working group appointed by political organs and NGO’s, while the other groups consist of people who have this as part of their work instructions and therefore are ensured funding.
“If the national states want us on their team, conditions must be improved”, Henriksen says.
Together we are strong
Christina Henriksen promises that the Saami on the Nordic side will be closer connected to the indigenous peoples on the Russian side during her leadership.
“International cooperation gives us a stronger voice, and we have a responsibility to lift up our sisters and brothers”, she says.
She points out the Barents Indigenous Peoples Congress – which is held every second year, as a suitable arena for this. There indigenous politicians from the whole Barents Region meet to discuss relevant issues and develop strategies to have their voices heard.
“We have to lift the voices of the indigenous peoples in the Barents Region internationally. In this connection the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in New York can be a good arena”, Henriksen says.