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Arctic indigenous peoples - Page 4

Figure 11. States, organizations and strategical issues in the Arctic: People across borders. Through numerous fora, Arctic peoples now seek to define a sustainable balance in their participation between the cash economy and their traditional pursuit. Their right to influence the future of the coastal regions is under heavy pressure from industrial fisheries and exploration activities based much further south.

Indigenous Arctic peoples face many challenges. Their standards of living are much lower than in the rest of the industrialized countries with which they are associated. The data for the Arctic countries suggest that infant mortality is much higher for indigenous peoples than for the general populations of these nations (Bjerregaard and Munksgaard, 1999; Statistics Greenland, 2002; Jenkins et al., 2003; Wells, 2003). (The exception being that Alaskan natives have a lower infant mortality rate than the US average. However, Alaskan natives have double the infant mortality rates of non-native Alaskans) (Wells, 2003). Infant mortality is defined as the number of deaths among infants in their first year, per 1,000 live births. At the population level, it is an indicator for maternal health, child health, access to health services, and environmental conditions. It is associated with such factors as the number of births per mother, the interval between births, the mother’s age, duration of breastfeeding, access to prenatal and natal care, and access to sanitation, and electricity (WHO, 2001; 2003).

In the Arctic countries there are also other significant disparities in health status between indigenous populations and national averages. For example, life expectancy for indigenous Greenlanders is much lower than that for Danes (Statistics Greenland, 2002). The same relationship is observed for Arctic indigenous populations in Canada (Nunavut) and the US (native Alaskans) (WHO, 2001; 2002; Wells et al. 2003). In Russia, average mortality rates have increased significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Siberia and Chukotka, where there are many predominantly indigenous communities, mortality rates are much higher than the national average (Jenkins et al., 2003).

Current, reliable data on Arctic indigenous health are however, difficult to find. Key indicators are most often presented as national averages, thereby masking the differences between vulnerable indigenous communities and the total population, and making it difficult for planners and development agencies to target the most critical regions.

Figure 12. Infant mortality in selected regions of the Arctic. Infant mortality is generally higher among indigenous peoples than the average populations.

For most indigenous people, wealth is possessed through their culture and close ties to the land and its abundant wildlife. Changes in these ecosystems, whether from climate change or industrial development produce greater socio-economic and cultural impacts than elsewhere in industrialized countries. The Arctic is now being made accessible to the rest of the world. Choices are being made today, by governments and local communities, as infrastructure and access is growing, that will determine whether or not the Arctic will continue to possess large, intact and productive ecosystems in the future. Policies that support external interests in resource extraction in the Arctic need to account for indigenous resources and livelihoods in the full array of impacts related to development activities.