While questioning Gunn-Britt Retter between mouthfuls of salad in the main cafeteria at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, our conversation was more than once interrupted by well-wishers from state representatives and other Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations saying “hello” and “thank you”. As her biography testifies, for more than 20 years the Saami Council’s story has been part of own her personal journey. As Head of the Arctic and Environmental Unit, working together with elected representatives from three Saami Parliaments, Gunn-Britt has developed a coherent and pragmatic approach to Arctic policy management. Her sensitivity to the differences of opinion among other Arctic state and Indigenous actors belies a keen eye for strategy and tactics. Accordingly, widely respected, she offers important insights about how these relatively small, independent Saami Indigenous-led community organizations came together to claim a seat at a the world’s newest, emerging multilateral forum (hint: always show-up; set the right tone). In this regard, the Saami Council has leap-frogged ahead of other international Indigenous organizations through timely governance and management practice reforms.
Tellingly, as Gunn-Britt explains, both the Saami Council and the Arctic Council’s Indigenous Peoples Secretariat have restructured to meet the changing demands of the Arctic Council and its growing presence in the Arctic region with over 100 projects under its management. For Indigenous Permanent Participant members, such transformations are far from complete; the decision of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference not to participate in the Álgu Fund is one example that speaks to the experimental nature of this venture. Arctic states, Canada among them, are also experiencing difficulty in securing a foothold in a new, transformed Arctic regime, where global powers like India and China have been welcomed among the ranks of state observers, while others (the European Union) are excluded. Overall, Saami Council thinking, as articulated by Gunn-Britt Retter, reflects an appreciation for the possibilities for leveraging multi-level governance within the Arctic Council.