Blog post written by Arctic 2018 alum Enooyaq Sudlovenick.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the Arctic Circle Assembly conference. Was it going to be more policy focused? Were there going to be any science sessions? Will there be student events? I had been to conferences before, but all of them science focused, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, and honestly I was worried I was going to be sitting through a lot of thick material. But I was wrong. Our delegation team sat down together at the opening remarks. It was a big room, lit with blue lights that made it feel like we were sitting in an iceberg. We were greeted by the founder of the ACA, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the former president of Iceland, followed by the current president of Iceland, Katrin Jakobstodittir, then surprisingly enough the Minister of Foreign affairs of Japan, Taro Kono, but that’s another story. These big plenaries sat all of us invested in the Arctic into one room.
Big plenaries were interesting to listen to, but the topical sessions allowed for more intimate conservations. There were several sessions that really put the big decision makers and past presidents in the same room as the Sami or Inuit person concerned for their livelihood and the future of their communities. One such session was on Sunday, called “Charting the Arctic-global Indigenous dialogue: Indigenous guardianship and self-governance; ecosystems and thriving communities”. Although the premise behind holding this open consultative meetings was a bit confusing, there was a major point that I took away from the session.
There was a man there from Micronesia, he had been working with a company called Nia Tero to give voice to their Indigenous peoples. The company had been helping this man and the islands he called home in empowering and supporting them to building self-governance. It’s hard to imagine why this man from the Pacific islands, which was across the world, was here in Iceland at a conference about the Arctic Circle. We all listened with interest as he explained his reason for being here.
His people had been struggling with bad working conditions and colonial systems that continue to oppress many people, including his. Somehow, he had heard of the Inuit living in the Arctic, and their success in self-governance. He heard that these Inuit successfully are given a seat in their country, and allowed a voice to manage their own resources, and even self govern, such as the cases in Labrador, Nunavik, Greenland, and Nunavut. He took this success as a boost of hope and reached out to people that could help in the process for self-governance in his home. He was there at the ACA to say he has been successful in working towards self-governance and making a changes for the better in his home islands, and all because he was inspired by the work of the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic.
This message was a breath of fresh air. Right there in front of us was someone who had benefited in our fight for self-governance in the Arctic. When we are busy with our heads down, working tirelessly to try and create positive changes in our communities, it is very hard to see any progress or speck of improvement. It can be exhaustive in mind, body, and especially emotions to fight a battle in a system that’s designed against your values, language, peoples, and way of life. This man provided a glance of the Arctic and its peoples from the outside, through the eyes of another Indigenous person who is just starting to see that it is possible to improve things for them, and there was proof! In the success of the Inuit people in the Arctic.
This glance from new eyes allowed me to take a step back and realize that we have indeed gone far together. We have made progress and it’s okay to celebrate these successes, even as we prepare for the next hurdle of challenges ahead of us.