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ARCTIC: Indigenous Peoples Call for Profits Share - Anders Oskal Interviewed by AFP
Written by Philip Burgess   
Thursday, 24 January 2008 01:00
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TROMSØ, Norway -- Indigenous Arctic populations worry about the environmental cost of developing the region´s rich energy resources but pragmatically say they deserve a cut of the profits.

"The agenda is the agenda of the oil companies," said Geir Tommy Pedersen, head of the Sami Council, which represents Samis from across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

"We cannot stop the development but we want a part of the benefits and want to play a role in resources development," he said on the sidelines of a week-long conference in the northern Norwegian town of Tromsoe on environmental challenges in the Arctic.


According to some estimates, the Arctic region harbours a quarter of the world´s undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves -- riches that have become increasingly accessible as the ice cap continues to melt.

"We want to have a chance to (help) the decision makers to make the right decision for us," Pedersen said.

Anders Oskal, who heads the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry, emphasised that broadened human activity in the region would pose a challenge to reindeer and their herders, but said "oil and gas development is not the worst thing that could happen."

Such industries are "very profitable and that at least gives us an opportunity for a positive development of indigenous societies," like improving healthcare, schools and other social services in the region, he said.

"In many cases living on the tundra with no connection to civil society, well, it can be a very hard life," he pointed out.

The Arctic region counts between two and four million inhabitants, spread across territories belonging to Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States and including around 20 indigenous groups, according to the Arctic Council.
Local know-how could prove invaluable to governments and companies currently developing energy resources in the region, Oskal said.

"We have a competence (so) we should be consulted," Pedersen agreed, insisting that indigenous populations should stop being treated "like an exotic thing for tourists."

Patricia Cochran, head of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, meanwhile insisted that "we need to be involved in the process of decision," pointing out that in the case of an accident locals would have an easier time living with mistakes they helped make.
While the conference participants stressed indigenous populations´ capability of adapting to the coming changes, they also voiced deep concern over the prospects of mismanaged development in the region.

"I am very concerned about long term impacts of oil and gas development in the Arctic. We are afraid of large oil spill," Cochran said.

The freezing temperatures near the pole are expected to make clean-up efforts after an oil spill more difficult and condemn soiled animals to death from hypothermia.
New roads and other infrastructure in previously untouched wilderness areas has already disturbed animal life there, with scientists reporting that roads and pipelines prompt caribou and reindeer to shift migrational routes, affecting wildlife for miles around.

Fears that the hunt for black gold could cause irreversible damage to the fragile Arctic ecosystem prompted global conservation group WWF on Tuesday to call for a moratorium on all new oil exploration in the region.

Representatives for the indigenous communities there rejected the call however, focusing instead on joining forces with decision makers in the hope of preserving at least a small part of their current way of life.

"I think we need to have a realistic view of the situation. It´s not very realistic to say the Arctic will be free of oil and gas explorations," Oskal said.

Cochran agreed. "We live in reality and we want to be prepared for things that are going to happen," she said, adding that her people wanted to "extract local benefits while (the) oil is still flowing."

"We are not just looking at this issue as the victims of development," she insisted

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Geir Tommy Pedersen, ICC, Oil and Gas, Saami Council
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