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Arctic Circle
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An Idea: Pan-Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Radio

By Anton Vasiliev, Russia’s Senior Arctic Official 2008-2014, Ambassador to the Republic of Iceland 2014-2020

Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem of connectivity in its broad sense. Everywhere, especially in the sparsely populated Arctic. Online meetings and discussions substituted normal in-person communication between people, breaking social and cultural ties and traditions. In a situation when isolation is a sine qua non of survival, we think of new ways of staying together with our relatives, friends, compatriots, and simply people and institutions of the same origin, religion or culture. This was the breeding ground for the idea of creating Pan-Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Radio, a radio station that would broadcast in indigenous languages in the whole circumpolar Arctic region on the basis of existing indigenous languages broadcasting in various parts of the Arctic.

The idea, raised by experts, is receiving initial interest and favorable reaction by indigenous peoples of many Arctic states and authorities of the Arctic regions. Of course, many general and practical aspects need further elaboration. However, even at this early stage, I believe the idea is excellent.

Establishment of a common information space for indigenous peoples of the Arctic would be symbolic and a major contribution to the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032 which is devoted to the preservation, revitalization, and promotion of indigenous languages. It would be a recognition of indigenous solidarity and a recognition by major society and non-indigenous speakers that indigenous groups and languages need to be protected. Also, an input to the reconciliation processes of indigenous peoples with dominant societies under way in Canada and Scandinavia.

For indigenous peoples themselves this would be beneficial for revitalization of their identity, culture, knowledge and practices. It could become a handy instrument for early childhood education and for passing traditional knowledge from elders to younger generations. An easy way to exchange and obtain experience in dealing with climate change, meeting and adapting to new realities, fighting new challenges and seizing new opportunities.

The idea, raised by experts, is receiving initial interest and favorable reaction by indigenous peoples of many Arctic states and authorities of the Arctic regions.

A big advantage of Pan-Arctic Indigenous Peoples Radio would be its simplicity and easiness to use. That is significant, especially bearing in mind the nomadic way of life of reindeer herders, hunters, fishermen and other peoples of the North. No accessibility problems, no accounts, no passwords, no log in/log out, just pressing the button of a radio receiver and tuning in. Little or no commercials. Free.

Such a radio station will not be too expensive to organize. Some could compare it to the University of the Arctic, meaning that this would be a sort of integration of what we already have into a common information space with some bureaucracy and mostly coordination activity like in UArctic.

Still, there are various ways to arrange pan-arctic broadcasting.

The initiator could be Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat (IPS) that works together with the Arctic Council Secretariat in Tromso. This would be logical if the six Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council empower the IPS to do so, especially if the idea is supported by the Arctic Council. At the end of the day, this could even be the subject of the next legally-binding agreement under the aegis of the Arctic Council. Another possibility could be calling a meeting of representatives of all local regional radio stations that broadcast in local indigenous languages to discuss the initiative, as well as modalities and practicalities of the way forward. The leadership of the project could also come from any interested enthusiast, be it a state, an association of indigenous peoples, a cultural society, a potential donor or an enterprise.

The priorities and structure of the content of broadcasts should be decided by an editorial board, but most general principles could be fixed by the initiators/organizers of the station. In any case, expectations, priorities, preferences of the target audience must be a prevailing factor.

Over 40 indigenous peoples of the Arctic speak different dialects of the languages belonging to 5 major language families (of them 9 dialects are critically endangered or recently extinct), as well as 5 language “isolates”. Broadcast in a native language of the listener is the central element of the whole idea. This preferably should be a whole day broadcast. This would require translation/interpretation from one indigenous language to another, preferably directly or via one of non-indigenous language. Musical programs will not need interpretation. Alternatively, as we are talking about a circumpolar region it would be easier and cheaper to arrange “language shifts” that may follow prime time of a particular time zone with its predominant indigenous language. In any case, as programs will consist of a mix of linguistic sources, establishment of a group of professional interpreters and announcers under the editorial board of the station looks inevitable.

No accessibility problems, no accounts, no passwords, no log in/log out, just pressing the button of a radio receiver and tuning in. Little or no commercials. Free.

Various financing schemes of the radio can be applied. This can be a foundation comprised of donations from the Arctic states and companies. Or an organization with its own budget being the part of the budget of the IPS. The possibility of attracting non-binding financing from the Arctic Council observer states can be examined, as all of them promised to care about the needs of indigenous peoples of the North.

Technical side of broadcasting should be agreed by the experts. However, the world experience suggests that, with the current technological advance, the most effective and also flexible broadcasting should be in AM range and using the breakthrough DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) standard. Frequency distribution between LW, MW and SW might be arranged depending on local conditions and particular timing. The basic concept is short-wave radio which can reach for long distances 24 hours a day. According to experts, using, for example, three currently available transmitters in Novosibirsk, Northern Norway and Alaska would be sufficient to assure stable receiving of the signal of the new radio station in the whole Northern circumpolar area.

Depending on how things are arranged, the new radio station could bear various names. To mention a few: “Pan-Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Radio” (PAIPR), “Arctic Council Indigenous Radio” (ACIR), “Arctic Circle Radio” (ACR), or simplistic “Arctic Radio” (AR) and “Polar Radio Arctic” (PRA). This is a space to exercise our fantasy, but, obviously, the last word should again belong to indigenous peoples themselves. The same applies to the potentially delicate issue of distribution of languages.