Co-management as a Foundation of Arctic Exceptionalism: Strengthening the Bonds between the Indigenous and Westphalian Worlds

In: The Yearbook of Polar Law Online
Barry Scott Zellen
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Successful collaboration between the Indigenous peoples and the sovereign states of Arctic North America has helped to stabilize the Arctic region, fostering meaningful Indigenous participation in the governance of their homeland through the introduction of new institutions of self-governance at the municipal, tribal and territorial levels, and successful diplomatic collaborations at the international level through the Arctic Council. Undergirding each of these pillars of Indigenous participation in Arctic governance is a mutuality of commitment to the principle of co-management of the Arctic that has united Indigenous peoples and the state across Arctic North America. Co-management has become so widely and reciprocally embraced by tribal peoples and states alike that it now provides a stable foundation bridging the Indigenous, transnational world with the Westphalian world of states and statecraft. This stability and the reciprocal and over time increasingly balanced relationship between sovereign states and Indigenous stakeholders has yielded a widely recognized spirit of international collaboration often referred to as Arctic exceptionalism. Along the way, co-management has transformed into both a mechanism of, and powerful paradigm for, trans-Arctic diplomacy that fosters not only greater domestic unity between tribe and state, but between states as well, catapulting mechanisms designed for domestic resource management to the international stage. Arctic exceptionalism has come under recent strain from the renewal of great power competition in the Arctic. As Arctic competition between states rises, the multitude of co-management systems and the multi-level, inter-governmental and inter-organizational relationships they have nurtured across the region can help to neutralize new threats from intensifying inter-state tensions.

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