Fulbright scholar eyes Indigenous voice in Arctic

Paul Mayne//Western News

Paul Mayne // Western News Brescia University College professor Andrew Chater has been named a 2018-19 Fulbright Canada Scholar. During his five months as a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington, he will study the potential impact of Indigenous People if their voices were more broadly heard when it comes to international decision-making, in particular within the Arctic Council.

Indigenous People have a voice in Arctic affairs, but how that voice translates into influence will be central to Brescia University College professor Andrew Chater’s work during his five-month stint at the University of Washington as a 2018 Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Arctic Studies.

The Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program offers a unique opportunity to explore a wide range of scholarly issues, including important contemporary issues relevant to Canada, the United States, and the relationship between the two countries.

Chater is the first Fulbright Canada Scholar from Brescia and the second from Western this year.

Ivey Business School professor Adam Fremeth will visit Indiana University where he’ll research how electric utility firms interact with state regulatory bodies, as well as the impact of energy policies, particularly in the area of renewable energy.

“You see the calibre of the people who have won in the past and it’s something you want to live up to,” said the 31-year-old Chater.

His research focuses on the Arctic Council, an international institution for the Arctic region comprised of several countries and six Indigenous People organizations. It is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection.

Members countries include those with territory in the Arctic – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Russia and the United States.

“It’s about promoting cooperation on environmental protection. They have done a lot of environmental assessment reports, sharing resources when doing research together, created action plans and technical exercises to coordinate governance around Arctic issues,” said Chater, who will focus on the role Indigenous People play in these decisions.

The Arctic Council also includes six Indigenous People organizations as permanent participants. That status allows for active participation and full consultation with the Arctic Indigenous People within the council. They include the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and Saami Council.

Chater, who will also teach a seminar class while in Seattle, said while membership in the Arctic Council is one thing, it must translate into action for Indigenous People when it comes to Arctic governance in order to be valuable.

“Indigenous People organizations have that membership role in the Arctic Council,” he said. “I want to look at how that role translates into results, what power and influence it manifests. Beyond the Arctic Council, how does that look more broadly in the region, with other institutions on other issues.”

One issue facing Indigenous organizations is resources. These are small organizations with generally a few staff, part-time quite often, while the member countries have big bureaucracies and delegations with dozens of people.

“As result, Indigenous organizations are able to contribute to about 20 per cent of the council’s projects and work,” Chater explained. “If they start doing more, will they be spread too thin?”

The Arctic Council is a relatively small organization with a low profile. Nevertheless, Chater sees potential for it to do more and address further issues. Indigenous People need to be part of that.

“It’s not just about the institution, but really a question about what participation means for Indigenous People,” Chater said. “We live in an age of reconciliation and public-policy issues. If we were talking even just 10 years ago, a consultation would be the term, and it still is. But more and more, we’re hearing about participation. So what does that look like? What does it mean? The Arctic Council gives us clues to what that can look like and mean.

“That understanding what ‘participation’ or ‘membership’ means for Indigenous People in institutions is one of the profound questions of our times, especially in this era of reconciliation.”