Far North leaders meet in Alaska

Arctic Encounter Symposium

AES

Libby Casey of The Washington Post (left) moderated a VIP dialogue with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Ambassador David Balton, executive director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee at the Executive Office of the President (U.S.) about the U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region.

Christie Ericson
Anchorage, Alaska

From March 29 to 31, nearly 1,000 attendees from 25 countries met in Anchorage, Alaska, for the 2023 Arctic Encounter Symposium (AES). The largest annual Arctic policy event in North America, this year’s gathering brought together a wide range of representatives, including Indigenous leaders, national and international policymakers, government officials, and leading academic, science, technology, maritime, and energy experts for three whirlwind days of keynotes, plenary sessions, breakout sessions, exhibits, and cultural celebrations.

AES was founded in 2013 by Rachel Kallander, who currently serves as its executive director. The mission of the AES is to raise awareness of the challenges facing the Arctic, to facilitate discussions on shared interests and concerns, and to collaborate on solutions. Raised in Cordova, Alaska, Kallander is also the CEO of Kallander & Associates, as well as the owner and publisher of The Cordova Times, and the honorary consul of Iceland for Alaska.

This is the second year in a row that the AES has taken place in Alaska, the state that makes the United States an Arctic nation and one of the eight member states of the Arctic Council. Major themes of the symposium revolved around topics shared across the North: responsible resource development, climate change and its impact on Arctic communities, lack of infrastructure, high energy costs, and out-migration. Community, knowledge, and communication were also priorities that came up repeatedly. Another important thread was the critical need for Indigenous representation in making informed decisions about the Arctic. “Nothing about us without us” was a common refrain by panelists.

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Morten Høglund, ambassador of Arctic affairs and senior Arctic official at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presented Norway’s agenda and priorities for its upcoming chairship.

Norway was well represented at AES, with representatives from a number of organizations. Morten Høglund, ambassador of Arctic affairs and senior Arctic official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presented Norway’s agenda for the upcoming Norwegian chair of the Arctic Council (2023-2025), divided into four thematic priorities: the oceans; climate and environment; sustainable economic development; and people in the North, with specific focus on Arctic youth and Arctic Indigenous Peoples.

The Arctic Council, the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation in the Arctic, has paused all official activities due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Work has continued on projects that don’t involve Russia, and there was much discussion about the future of the Arctic Council, but it was very clear that Russia will need to end the war in Ukraine for there to be any path forward.

Anu Fredrikson, executive director of Arctic Frontiers, moderated the plenary panel “Partnering for the Future: Europe and the Arctic.” Originally from Oulu in northern Finland. Fredrikson was previously director of the Arctic Economic Council (AEC) and started in her current position in 2020. Headquartered in Tromsø, Norway, Arctic Frontiers facilitates discussion on responsible and sustainable development of the Arctic through its annual conference and year-round outreach activities.

Gunn-Britt Retter, head of the Arctic and environmental unit of the Sámi Council, spoke on two panels: “The Arctic Council and New Forms of Engagement: Indigenous Identity in a Changing Arctic” and “Northern Indigenous Leaders on the Future of the Arctic.” Retter previously served as a member of the Sámi Parliament for two terms and was born and raised in the coastal Sámi community Unjárga-Nesseby in northeastern Norway. She currently works with “issues relating to Indigenous peoples and knowledge associated with climate change, biodiversity, language, pollution, and the management of natural resources.”

Mads Frederiksen, director of the Arctic Economic Council (AEC), moderated the plenary session “An Investment Frontier: Bringing Private Capital to the Arctic” and participated in the panels “Investing in the Arctic” and “Developing Critical Minerals: A Strategic Imperative.” Originally from Denmark, Frederiksen became director in 2021. Also headquartered in Tromsø, the AEC is an independent organization established to facilitate sustainable business development in the Arctic.

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The Anchorage Museum hosted a reception and the 4th Annual Far North Fashion show, featuring all Indigenous models and designers.

Dr. Andreas Raspotnik, AlaskaNor project leader and senior researcher at the High North Center for Business and Governance at Nord University in Bodø, Norway, spoke on the panel “An Investment Frontier: Bringing Private Capital to the Arctic: Innovation and the Blue Economy.” Raspotnik managed the three-year project, AlaskaNor, that examined and compared the blue economy potential of Alaska and North Norway.

This year’s event also featured a strong international youth presence. The AES helped reduce barriers to attendance by offering full-time students complimentary passes and also offered several rural, elder, and youth scholarships. The plenary panel “Decisions Today, Our Legacy Tomorrow: Young Commentary on Contemporary Arctic Policy” featured youth representatives from Alaska, Greenland, and Canada.

Another breakout session, “Youth Engagement in the Arctic,” featured a panel of young people from Alaska and Canada representing three youth organizations: Arctic Youth Ambassadors, Arctic Youth Network, and Arctic Resilient Communities Youth Fellows. The panelists discussed the need to redefine what policy discussion is and the need to normalize youth engagement in these discussions. They also discussed the importance of their roles as cultural translators, bridging the gaps between Western and traditional cultural values.

The panelists also pointed out that they are not just future leaders, but they are already leaders in their communities now and have many talents to offer. They challenged the audience members to seek out youth involvement on their boards and expressed the hope that future conferences would move beyond just talking about youth engagement and instead actively include youth on panels about real issues.

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Iḷakus Dance Group performed the opening and closing of AES with Native Alaskan dancing and drums.

In addition to the business and policy discussions, AES provided attendees with cultural opportunities as well. Patuk Glenn, executive director of the Arctic Slope Community Foundation started off each day with the “Inupiaq Word of the Day.” AES also offered scholarships to Alaskan and international artists, enabling them to exhibit and sell their artwork during the event. Opening and closing ceremonies featured Alaska Native cultural performances by Iḷakus Dance Group and the Unangam Taliĝisniikas dance group.

The 4th Annual Far North Fashion Show featuring all Indigenous models and designers from Alaska, Canada, and Greenland was held at the Anchorage Museum, as well as a dance performance, “(Re)membering Tattoos: Stitching Maps as Memory on Skin” by the Tanam Anĝii Collective, an Unangax̂ dance group. The Museum’s North x North Festival, an “annual celebration of Northern connection, creativity, imagination, and innovation” held in collaboration with the AES, featured film screenings and musical performances.

All photos by Christie Ericson

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Christie Ericson

Christie Ericson is an academic librarian living in Anchorage, Alaska. She has a background in languages and linguistics and has been fulfilling her lifelong dream of learning the Norwegian language. She also serves as the cultural director and librarian at her local Sons of Norway lodge and is completely addicted to Selbu mitten knitting.