The Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites of Arctic Indigenous Peoples as a Part of Their Right to Cultural Integrity

  • Leena Heinämäki
  • Thora Martina Herrmann


Sacred Natural Sites (SNS) are an important means for the expressions and transmission of culture, and a manifestation of spiritual values of nature, which have contributed to the conservation of species and habitats. However, many SNS are increasingly under threat, and their contribution to conservation is still not sufficiently recognized by states and conservation agencies, laws and policies. With a growing recognition of the mutual dependency between biodiversity and sociocultural systems in the Arctic, indigenous communities, conservationists, law-and policy-makers are endeavoring to re-establish bio-cultural diversity as a constructive pathway for conservation law, policy and practice. The integration of indigenous rights into conservation, through rights-based approaches is an emerging and challenging area. This new rights-based approach to conservation acknowledges that conservation and human rights must be pursued in mutually supportive ways that contribute to the common goal of environmental sustainability and human well-being. Much remains to be done to better understand the benefits, practical implications and limitations of such rightsbased approaches. This paper discusses the role of international law as well as sui generis processes from the sub-Arctic and Arctic regions that recognize and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights in conservation, and where action for the conservation of sacred natural sites is being taken by indigenous communities themselves using international law and policy instruments, or developing their own community instruments. These cases provide ways forward for duty-bearers and custodians to engage in constructive dialogue to seek together synergies to mutual responsibilities and benefits, and to build new spaces in law, policy and practice in the Arctic.

Keywords: Sacred Natural Sites; Indigenous Peoples; Arctic; cultural integrity; international human rights law, international environmental law

Citation: Arctic Review on Law and Politics, vol. 4, 2/2013 pp. 207–233. ISSN 1891-6252

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How to Cite
HeinämäkiL., & Herrmann, T. M. (2013). The Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites of Arctic Indigenous Peoples as a Part of Their Right to Cultural Integrity. Arctic Review, 4(2). Retrieved from
Original Articles
Sacred Natural Sites, Indigenous Peoples, Arctic, cultural integrity, international human rights law, international environmental law