In 1991 the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the Saami Council (SC) and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON)
became observers in the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS). Three years later the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat was established to support the indigenous organizations in the AEPS.
During her twenty years at the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat, Alona Yefimenko has witnessed the permanent participants grow to become stronger voices. “In the beginning some of the organizations that we today know as ‘permanent participants’ had little capacity due to a lack of funding, language problems and binding commitments from the national Arctic governments,” says Alona Yefimenko, technical advisor in the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples Secretariat (IPS). The IPS served as a communication centre for many of the Arctic indigenous peoples and promoted linkages between different stakeholders within the AEPS.
After the IPS became a part of the Arctic Council in 1996, three more organizations were added: the Aleut International Association (AIA) in 1998, the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC) in 2000 and the Gwich’in Council International (GCI) in 2000. Today, the six organizations all have a seat at the Arctic Council table together with the eight member states. “Our role has always been to assist the indigenous peoples’ organizations in preparing for meetings, facilitating dialogue between these organizations and governments, and distributing information about the Arctic Council to the Arctic communities,” Yefimenko says.
The Russian-born IPS advisor has been working for the organization since 1996. In 2016 the IPS moves its office from Copenhagen, Denmark to Tromsø, Norway. “For me this will be a big change and an interesting opportunity to be part of the Arctic Council Secretariat, and I hope that the permanent participants will find our new location helpful and effective,” Yefimenko says. She has witnessed the permanent participants become more efficient and grow stronger over the years. “But the IPS remains very important for the permanent participants as their support secretariat,” Yefimenko concludes.