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Arctic Council Launches New Fund for Indigenous Groups

The Algu Fund aims to raise $30 million to help ensure that northern Indigenous groups are better able to participate in the Arctic Council’s workings, says Jim Gamble, the fund’s acting chair.

Written by Jillian Kestler-D’Amours Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Representatives from northern Indigenous groups celebrate the launch of the Algu Fund at the Arctic Council’s ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, last week. From left: Sam Alexander with the Gwich’in Council International, Chief Gary Harrison with the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Vladimir Klimov with the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Ethel Blake with the Gwich’in Council International, Ellen Inga Turi with the Saami Council and Jim Gamble with the Aleut International Association.Photo Courtesy the Algu Fund

A new fund has been created to amplify the diverse voices of Indigenous peoples in the Arctic Council.

The Algu Fund will support the six Indigenous organizations that make up the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat, which holds permanent participant status in the Arctic Council.

The Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council all helped get the fund off the ground.

The goal is to build a $30 million endowment to help support the organization’s day-to-day operations, explained Jim Gamble, head of the Aleut Association and the fund’s acting chair.

Later, funding could be disbursed to the six organizations according to common themes or research areas, like oceanic issues, pollution or sustainable development, Gamble said.

The Algu Fund is more than a decade in the making and aims to solicit funds from both national governments and private organizations. So far, five of the six permanent participants are fully enrolled and able to receive contributions. The sixth, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, is still working toward that goal and is expected to join, Gamble said.

Arctic Deeply spoke with Gamble about how the Algu Fund was conceived, what its goals are and how it aims to help Indigenous organizations participate more fully with the Arctic Council in the future.

Arctic Deeply: All six organizations work on such diverse issues. How did you make sure that every group feels that the fund will address their priorities and their needs?

Jim Gamble: If you look at it in terms of thematic areas, there are differences of course among the six.

A good example of that is for [the Aleut International Association], we are a region of islands and coastline, and so marine issues for us are a top priority. We’re looking at things like shipping safety and marine biodiversity and climate change effects related to the marine environment.

For Arctic Athabaskan Council or Gwich’in Council International, which are inland regions, they probably put more emphasis on terrestrial issues.

But it’s really interesting, too, because when we get together and talk about these issues, what we all realize is that it’s all interconnected. So for instance, Chief Michael Stickman from Arctic Athabaskan Council, he lives on the Yukon River and the fish that he harvests every year and that his community depends on, come from the Bering Sea.

We’re working on trying to make sure that the Bering Sea remains a clean and healthy environment and that the biodiversity of the Bering Sea remains healthy, and that directly affects what happens hundreds of miles up the Yukon River in Chief Stickman’s community.

We all recognize the interconnectedness of all of this, and that’s one of the reasons why the Arctic Council is so important because it allows us all to come together and work together, even though geographically we’re very different.

The idea of the fund really is that we’re interconnected, too. We’re sort of all dependent on each other, so the fund needs to benefit us all equally.

Arctic Deeply: Practically, what are the next steps?

Gamble: We had an opening in Fairbanks that went very well. We want to get the word out that the fund is open, and available to accept contributions. We’ve gotten contributions from primarily other organizations, and so a big priority, and I think a big opportunity, is we really are looking for our first country contribution.

This is very much about us being able to contribute more. I know that every Arctic state values the contributions of the permanent participants. It’s been proven time and time again … the thing that holds us back is resources.

Algu Fund means “beginning” [in the Sami language], and I almost can’t over-emphasize this enough: It really is a new idea, a new concept, a new beginning.

All of us could do a better job with more, and while we will always nurture and prioritize our relationships with the Arctic states, this is a way for us to step outside the box and work harder on this in a completely new way. It truly is a beginning and it truly is a very, very significant development in the Arctic Council as a whole.

Arctic Deeply: What do you hope the fund will accomplish?

Gamble: We sort of envision that in the end, when all of this is done, we’ll actually have two funds.

The first one that we are promoting now – and that is active and up and running and, in fact, has money in the bank and we’re fundraising actively for – is designed to be a general, permanent participant support fund.

What that means it that the funds will be distributed equally amongst the permanent participants to use as they will in their administration, in their travel for Arctic Council activities, in anything that they need essentially to maintain an office, be up and running and participate in the Arctic Council.

We recognize the fact that some funders, for instance, might want to fund the work of the permanent participants, but only on issues that are of importance to their mandate or to their board of directors.

For instance, they may want to fund permanent participant work on ocean issues, or pollution issues, or sustainable development issues … so our vision is to have a second fund, funds that are earmarked for projects, and then those monies would go in under a certain thematic area, and the permanent participants could apply for those … and the Algu Fund board would evaluate those proposals.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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