by Jack Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security
Over the course of the last year, our PhD cohort in McCormack School’s Global Governance and Human Security program explored different international organizations from around the world. By studying the canon of global governance and international organizational theory, we acquired new tools for understanding factors that shape the world. Part of this journey involved adopting a more critical approach and questioning claims of international organizations, like the Arctic Council (AC), quantitatively. This reflection sheds light on unique findings that display UMass Boston’s encouragement for interdisciplinary work.
After learning how Arctic indigenous groups bear disproportionate environmental burdens in the High North, I started studying the Arctic Council in greater depth. The Arctic Council was designed in large part to uplift indigenous voices, heritage, culture, livelihood amidst a changing Arctic environment. The following organizations are Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council: 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. The education at UMass Boston helped me ask whether the Arctic Council was truly living up to its environmental and human rights ambitions. First, analyzing digital archives revealed that indigenous considerations have significantly decreased in Senior Arctic Observer (SAO) meeting minutes from 1999 to 2017. Second, state and external organizations were twice as likely to spearhead indigenous projects and debates than the indigenous groups themselves. And third, indigenous issues appeared in only 0.0004375% of content in a typical SAO document. For this reason, it can be argued that indigenous people are more subjects than participants in the AC’s SAO.
By studying one of the most democratic and praised international organizations with a critical lens and expanded tool kit, I found gaps and areas for possible improvement. This research increased my capacity for literature reviews, statistical analyses, and writing. The quantitative story of the Arctic Council, indigenous participants, and missing voices is an important, but untold, history of non-state actors. It represents a vulnerability in the Arctic Council’s mission, and a factor that may shape the future of the forum. To borrow a phrase from the Japanese Ministry, my first year in the Global Governance and Human Security program taught me how to envision a world where people “live healthy, productive lives in harmony with nature.” Hopefully, sharing a snapshot from this journey helps make these aspirations a reality.