Money needed for indigenous participation

Lars-Anders Baer speaks at the Barents Summit in Kirkenes Tuesday.

KIRKENES: Though the Barents Euro-Arctic Council encourages involvement of indigenous people in decisions affecting their livelihoods, a lack of financial support makes this an unattainable reality.


“It’s almost an impossible task,” says Lars-Anders Baer, chair of the Council’s Working Group of Indigenous Peoples. “We are on stage, but we’re the cheap ones.”

Baer, who is the former president of the Swedish Sami Parliament, spoke alongside top government officials from the Council’s member states at the Barents Summit Tuesday in Kirkenes, Norway when the new Kirkenes Declaration was released. There, he announced that his working group will have to “partly suspend” its participation in the Council unless member states increase funding to indigenous organizations.

“It’s not a question of big money,” he tells the BarentsObserver, adding that annual funding of even NOK 400,000 (€52,000) would be sufficient for indigenous people to have adequate involvement in the Council’s activities and decisions.

“It’s peanuts in the governmental structure.”

He says his working group already receives financial support from the Norwegian government, but that contributions from all Barents nations are needed for the group to participate in a more meaningful way. For example, two years ago, the region’s indigenous people were invited to have representation on all Council working groups, but they couldn’t afford to do this.

“We have been forced to make quite hard priorities because we don’t have the money,” he says.

Sami Council President Aile Javo, who chose not to attend the Barents Summit, says the new Kirkenes Declaration talks a lot about improving involvement of indigenous people in the Council, but doesn’t provide details of how this will be accomplished.

“They’re saying they want to strengthen indigenous participation in Barents cooperation, but they of course need to follow up with money so it’s not just nice words on paper,” she says.

She explains that indigenous groups need funding so they can properly prepare for meetings, travel to events and consult with experts about how best to influence policies that affect them.

“If I should have come to Kirkenes, I would have been hitchhiking with someone else driving there and I would have stayed somewhere for free because we don’t have money to participate in this,” she says.

Though the working group’s bank account is becoming dangerously empty, Baer says he’s “quite optimistic” that the Barents nations will soon come through with funding. After all, he says the new Kirkenes Declaration shows they are recognizing the importance of indigenous voices in decision making.

Concrete means of increasing indigenous involvement in the Council will be discussed at a ministerial meeting in October.