On October 7, 2022, the White House released its National Strategy for the Arctic Region, further developing the federal government’s approach to the northernmost region, which is under intergovernmental purview. The document is an update to a policy released in 2013, and is intended to express the federal government’s “affirmative U.S. agenda over the next ten years, from 2022 to 2032, to realize” an “Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative.”

The new policy is comprised of four pillars: Security, Climate Change and Environmental Protection, Sustainable Economic Development, and International Cooperation and Governance. The policy states that its intent is to “protect[] and advance[] U.S. interests in the region, including providing for homeland security and defense; mitigating and building resilience to climate change and ecosystem degradation; expanding U.S. economic opportunities; protecting and improving livelihoods, including for Alaska Native communities; and upholding international law, rules, norms, and standards across Arctic countries.” The policy identifies the impact of climate change on Alaska Native communities, and the need to invest in more infrastructure and economic opportunity in those communities.

The policy also emphasizes the role that Alaska Native communities will play in the development and implementation of the federal government’s projects in the Arctic. The policy states that the federal government is

committed to regular, meaningful, and robust consultation, coordination, and, as appropriate, co-management with Alaska Native Tribes, communities, corporations, and other organizations—both to ensure Alaska Native communities are partners in decisions affecting them and also because we recognize that Alaska Native experience and knowledge is essential to the success of this strategy. We will support an equitable partnership, including by integrating co-production of knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge into federal processes and by supporting Tribal self-determination and opportunity.

This commitment to Alaska Native consultation is consistent with prior presidential executive orders requiring federal agencies to consult with Alaska Native Tribes, and Alaska Native Corporations, on issues relevant to their interests.

While the policy does not detail specific resources or programs that will be deployed or implemented by the federal government, it does identify these four areas that the federal government will be focusing on.

Security: Develop Capabilities for Expanded Arctic Activity. The new policy identifies a need to enhance and exercise the federal government’s “military and civilian capabilities in the Arctic as required to deter threats and to anticipate, prevent, and respond to both natural and human-made incidents.” In implementing this policy, the federal government states it will improve its understanding of how to operate in the Arctic region, maintain a military presence in the Arctic and expand the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker fleet, and continue to cooperate with its allies in the region, including “partner[ing] with the State of Alaska and Alaska Native and rural communities on activities such as combined exercises and training on cold weather operations and interoperability.”

Climate Change and Environmental Protection: Build Resilience and Advance Adaptation, while Mitigating Emissions. The new policy recognizes the impact of climate change on the Arctic, noting that “[m]ore than 60 percent of Alaska Native communities are considered environmentally threatened due to climate change.” In response to this, the federal government states it will support Native communities by providing assistance with community adaptation and resilience planning, collaborating with Alaska Native communities on preferred responses to climate change issues, working to reduce emissions and protect habitats, expanding research into the compact of climate change on the Arctic, including “research on marine ecosystems, wildlife, and fisheries; the design and construction of Arctic infrastructure; and health crises afflicting Arctic populations,” and “accelerat[ing] work to clean up contaminated lands in Alaska.”

Sustainable Economic Development: Improve Livelihoods and Expand Economic Opportunity. The policy identifies a goal of assisting “responsible, inclusive, and transparent economic development in Alaska and across the Arctic.” To further this goal, the policy describes support for increased infrastructure development in Alaska, including telecommunications infrastructure and the “development of smaller ports, airfields, and other infrastructure, in consultation with the State of Alaska and Alaska Native communities, to tackle the high cost of living, facilitate responsible development, and improve incident response and recovery while minimizing impacts to the surrounding environment and local communities.” The policy also commits to improving access to subsistence lifestyles and cultural traditions, including consulting with Alaska Native communities to use local knowledge to make “decisions about Alaska’s fish and wildlife resources and help navigate the threats posed to Alaska’s subsistence lifestyles.” Notably, the federal government emphasizes an intent to engage in economic development in Alaska “in partnership with the private sector; State of Alaska; Alaska Native communities; and stakeholders, including representatives of labor, impacted communities, and environmental justice leaders, and will be accompanied by assessments of their associated environmental impacts.”

International Cooperation and Governance: Sustain Arctic Institutions and Uphold International Law. The policy expresses support for existing multilateral frameworks dedicated to the Arctic region, including the Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement, the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code, and the Agreement on Enhancing International Science Cooperation in the Arctic, and an intent to “protect navigation and overflight rights and freedoms across the Arctic and will delineate the outer limits of the U.S. continental shelf in accordance with international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

While it is only a policy framework, and does not provide for the implementation of specific programs or commitment of funds, it is notable that the new National Strategy for the Arctic Region recognizes the infrastructure needs of Alaska Native communities and the need for the federal government to collaborate with Alaska Native communities, both in terms of economic development and the implementation of federal policies in Alaska that will impact Alaska Natives. As the federal government implements new policies and directives, Alaska Native Corporations and Tribes should seek to hold the federal government accountable for the commitments made in this new National Strategy for the Arctic Region.

This article summarizes aspects of the law and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice for your situation, you should contact an attorney.

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