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State Dept. should pick Alaskans for US Arctic roles

The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates between the eight Arctic nations. For the last six years the Chairmanship has been successively held by Scandinavian countries: Norway, then Denmark, and then Sweden. On May 15, in Kiruna, Sweden, Canada will assume the Chair, and in two years' time it will be the United States' turn. We continue to hope that Canada and the United States will work in tandem and closely cooperate during their respective Arctic Council leaderships, in effect joining together for a four year North American Chairmanship.

Canada announced on August 23, 2012 that Member of Parliament (MP) Leona Aglukkaq would serve as chair of the Arctic Council during their Chairmanship. MP Aglukkaq is of the North -- she was born in Inuvik and has represented Nunavut in the Canadian House of Commons since 2008. When named the Minister of Health on October 30, 2008, she became the first Inuk to ever serve in the Cabinet of Canada. We appreciate Canada choosing a northern leader from their Arctic region to chair the Arctic Council.

As Co-Chairs of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, we have been very involved in trying to increase Alaska's voice in America's Arctic policy discussions. The Obama Administration has indicated its openness to including Alaskans in formulating and implementing the nation's Arctic policy. The National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released May 10, 2013, repeatedly mentions the importance of consultation and cooperation with the State of Alaska, Alaska Natives, and other Alaskan stakeholders. While this sentiment is appreciated, Alaskans are not just stakeholders: we are sovereign residents.

Toward the end of increasing Alaskan involvement in high-level decisions regarding America's Arctic policy, we would like to make these critical, early suggestions to President Obama and the State Department about the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Of course, our boldest expectation would be to have an Alaskan named as chair of the Arctic Council during the United States' Chairmanship. Historically, however, Arctic nations have appointed someone at the Cabinet level as their Chair. We hope that in 2015 the United States appoints the Secretary of State as the Arctic Council Chair. This would represent the higher level of commitment we are expecting from the Obama Administration. We want the highest level person possible to serve as Arctic Council chair so as to best promote United States and Alaskan interests in the international Arctic political arena.

There are several positions related to Arctic affairs that we think could and can be filled by Alaskan residents. Appointing Alaskans to these positions would: 1) serve the purpose of ensuring Alaska's perspectives and priorities are represented at the highest level of Arctic decision-making; 2) align with the National Strategy as indicated by the President; and 3) respect both the process of the Arctic Council and the State Department's leadership.

First, the Chair of the Arctic Council's Sustainable Development Working Group should be an Alaskan resident. Of the Council's six working groups, only SDWG is mandated to be led the chairing nation. Furthermore, the meetings of SDWG traditionally occur within the host country (we would hope, somewhere within Alaska).

Second, during the United States Chairmanship, the State Department should request from the State of Alaska an Alaska liaison to the Bureau of Ocean and Polar Affairs, in which the Senior Arctic Official is placed. The Alaska liaison position should be held by an Alaskan who can then collaborate with the U.S. Senior Arctic Official throughout the Chairmanship.

Finally, we would like to join with Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski in the call for an Arctic Ambassador in the State Department. The United States has 188 ambassadorial appointments, including for countries, as well as ambassadors-at-large. If Singapore has an Arctic Ambassador, why shouldn't America, an Arctic nation? And if an Arctic ambassador is appointed, certainly it would make sense for that person to be from Alaska – the state that makes America an Arctic nation.

Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage) has served in the Alaska State House of Representatives and Senate since 2001. During her presidency of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region group, Sen. McGuire successfully advocated for the creation of the Arctic Caucus. In 2012 she sponsored SJR 17, supporting the Arctic Council Task Force. She is currently serving as Co-Chair of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission.

Bob Herron (D-Bethel) has served in the Alaska Legislature since 2008. A member of the Northern Waters Task Force, Rep. Herron sponsored HJR 15 in 2011, supporting the Arctic Caucus; and in 2012 sponsored HJR 34, asking Congress to fund icebreakers and a Coast Guard Arctic base. He is currently serving as Co-Chair of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)