Nenets and Veps living in Russia and Sámi living in Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden are the indigenous peoples of the Barents region. They have ancient traditions for habitation, and traditions for usage of the areas’ resources in a trade context from the times before the national states were established. The indigenous peoples are characterized by own languages, own cultures and own traditions for trade and society.
The Komi people living the Republic of Komi are not recognized as indigenous people according to federal legislation. Karelians and Pomors are other minorities living in the region.
The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples was established by the Barents Regional Council in 1995. The overall goal for the indigenous peoples’ cooperation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region is to secure indigenous peoples’ rights, foundation for trade, society, culture and language.
General definition of indigenous peoples
According to Wikipedia the term indigenous peoples can be used to describe any ethnic group of people who inhabit a geographic region with which they have the earliest known historical connection, alongside immigrants which have populated the region and which are greater in number.
A definition of indigenous peoples is stated in Article 1 (1b) of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO No. 169 ):
This Convention applies to […] people in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present State boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.
Furthermore, Article 1 (2) leaves significant discretionary power to the peoples themselves to evaluate whether they regard themselves as indigenous:
Self-identification as indigenous or tribal shall be regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to which the provisions of this Convention apply.
It is noteworthy that the term used is "indigenous" despite the fact that it is not a common term for all Arctic countries. In Alaska, the most common reference is "Alaska Native" while the Constitution of Canada uses the term "aboriginal". "First nations" is also a widely used term in Canada as it is preferred by Indian people themselves.
The Russian legislation defines indigenous peoples based on their population size. Groups with less than 50,000 people are defined as "indigenous numerically-small peoples" whereas non-Russian peoples with a population size of over 50,000 are denied indigenous status.
Indigenous and minority languages in the Barents region
Map: Arctic Centre, University of Lapland.
Data credit: Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (www.caff.is).