It was day two at the International Polar Year, and just like yesterday, it was filled with amazing discussions, great meetings and priceless new connections.
Now sitting with Moki Kokoris of the Arctic Institute, we were ready for another intense working day.
Peter Harrison, Chair of the IPY 2012, came on stage and started the day by presenting an amazing video about Polar Educators. On the giant screen, Geoff Green, from Students on Ice, along with many others from several educational and scientific institutions, including PEW, talked about the importance of reaching out to children, who’s lifestyle now is more and more secluded from nature, and presented hands-on teaching methods to excite the students about science and the poles.
Then, it was time for David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Obama administration. The emphasis was quickly established, pointing that the Arctic was extremely important and that the USA were committed to being an important player. Hayes continued by reaffirming a theme that has been highly important and repeated at this conference: we must take into account the needs of the local indigenous communities and consider their knowledge – thousands of years of onsite information carried over generations – priceless. His next point was to stress how a cooperation must be reached between all the Arctic States, governments and involved communities, to develop Ecosystem Based Management templates. Finally, Hayes reiterated that science was great and that no one in this room needed to be convinced, but the challenge was to bridge science to the policy makers.
Today’s keynote speaker was Aqqualuk Lynge, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, former member of the Parliament of Greenland and one of the founders of the Greenlandic political party Inuit Ataqatigiit. Lynge reminded the audience that it was ok to be interested in the resources the Arctic had to offer, but that the North was primarily the place where they live and had lived for generations. Under an incredible slideshow of photos, Aqqaluke, a passionate Inuk, talked about how important it is to listen to his people. Although the Inuit Circumpolar Council and other indigenous organizations have been officially recognized and are present at the negotiation table, their voices are too often simply ignored. “You pretend to serve us but really, do you? You don’t know what WE know. You don’t believe in what WE believe” Lynge said, pointing to the obvious, of the need for the South to come and “fix” the North!
When Harrison came back to address the audience, it was to talk about the environmental aspect of the conference. “The ice cap is white, the ocean is blue, and the conference is green” he said. Through recycling, small publication format, carbon footprint sensitive actions and the paperless smartphone application, from GuideBook, that includes the program, maps, information on all sessions and so much more, the organization of the conference has done everything it could to lower its environmental impact.
Before heading to the Action Forum “Creating the conditions for safe shipping in polar waters”, I met with the Arctic Council Chair, Mr. Gustaf Lind and talked about how the Arctic scene had change over the last 5 years and what it will mean when the Chair moves to Canada. Although this conversation could have gone on for hours, he summarized it in one sentence: “One thing is for sure, much has happened already and much more will happen in a near future and the key to our adaptation will be “Cooperation”.
WWF’s Arctic Director Dr. Alex Shestakov was part of the morning panel at the Forum, along with Tschudi CEO Mr. Jon Edvard Sundess, Professor of Geography & arctic Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Dr. Lawson W. Brigham, marine lawyer for Border Ladner Gervais Mr. Peter Pamel, Research Associate at the Arctic Institute of North America Dr. Emma Stewart and finally President & Co-Founder of Cruise North Expeditions Mr. Dugald G. Wells. I caught up with Shestakov after to talk about the challenges we face. Once again, the word cooperation was the key to address these challenges.
At lunch time, we were treated with a magnificent show – ArtCirq and the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers. The Dakhka is a traditional inland Tlingit dance group of Northern Canada that: “work to bring opportunity of cultural revitalization and social transformation within their communities by reclaiming their languages, traditional values through the traditional art form of song, drumming, dance, storytelling.” Marilyn Jensen, dance leader, enlightened me after with more stories and information about the dances they performed, costumed they wore and the history of their culture. It was simply fascinating! I will definitely be writing about that in the coming weeks!
ArtCirq was a hilarious performance! Started after a tragic event in 1998, Inuusiq (“Life” in Inuktitut) was created to prevent suicide in small communities and help children in life. Their first mission was to produce, with the help of ISUMA productions, a television series about the youth’s life in the Canadian Arctic. The next project was the circus idea, intended to be an entertaining and fun alternative for the children. Today, Artcirq has evolved into a full community-based entertainment and multimedia company for northern and southern artists to bridge and meet in a meaningful and creative way.
The afternoon panel “Adaptation to Change” featured guests panelists Dr. Gustaf Lind – Chair of the Arctic Council, Mr. Jack Hebert – CEO of Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Mr. Duane Smith – President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada and finally Mr. Jon Edvard Sundress – CEO of Tschudi Shipping Company. Moderated by NY Times journalist and Senior Fellow at Pace University Mr. Andrew Revkin, each guest presented how their organizations had found success in adapting to unforeseen or foreseen challenges. “Adaptation for the Inuit is nothing new. We have lived for thousands of years, in harmony with one of the harshest environments in the world” said Mr. Smith.
Next stop was a workshop given by the Royal Norwegian Canadian Embassy. The two countries have a long history of working together (Canadian’s top scientific icebreaker bears the name of Norwegian legendary explorer Amundsen), and this event was a strong message from Norway to extend its commitment and support to further develop and strengthen this partnership. My main reason to attend was to chat with Jan-Gunnar Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Events like the International Polar Year Conference, are so crucial for developing the necessary relationships to bridge the communities, the scientists, the corporations, the educators & the politicians.
If you are present at the conference, make sure not to miss the photo exhibit on the cultural Inuit history. The presence of the Inuit is strongly emphasized at the IPY 2012, and for a reason. It is their home, their land, and their right.