The Youth Arctic Coalition (YAC) 2014 Inaugural International Conference, Ottawa
Satellite Hub at King’s College, Dalhousie University, Halifax Nova Scotia Canada.
The Youth Arctic Coalition (YAC) 2014 Inaugural International Conference was held in Ottawa and Iqaluit, and virtual hubs across the Circumpolar North and other northern regions, including Oslo, Svalbard, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Helsinki, Archangel in Russia, and Halifax in Nova Scotia. The purpose for the YAC conference was to unite delegates across multiple regions to contribute on pressing issues affecting Northern communities and to contribute in drafting the constitution of the YAC.
My comments shall focus first on the unique structure of the conference and second on the select issues that were shared at the conference over those few days. In particular, those that concern governance in the North, the economic role of the North, human rights and environmental degradation, food security, Arctic contaminants, sovereignty, education, as well as the inclusion of Aboriginal peoples in community based decision making and resource exploration and management.
The online infrastructure of the conference helped not only minimize the environmental footprint and minimize the costs of collaborative action, but more importantly facilitated access to remote and international participants and actors in an impressive way.
It enabled delegates to actively participate and explore the shared nature of Arctic issues facing pan-Arctic communities, connecting Northern and Southern (non-Arctic) communities. Youth from Northern communities were able to participate in meetings and workshops through Skype, WebEx, collaborative features of Google documents, social media. The combination of virtual tools and platforms (including partnerships with organizations on respectful and effective organization of dialogue on twitter and social media with the creation of social media cheat sheets) and physical mediums (physical conference rooms in Ottawa and Iqaluit) enabled youth and community voices not only to share opinions and express their local identities in a creative way but also manage the coalition’s solidarities and build the long distance partnerships and contexts needed to tackle Arctic governance, its institutions and its politics by integrating scholars used to the older format and a younger generation equipped with new tools.
The structure of the conference also enabled the delegates to actively participate and uniquely explore the shared nature of pan-Arctic issues. Notably, the danger of organic pollutants, Heavy metals and Radionuclides — pollutants that live and flow into the oceanic currents and affect human health, marine and other biological life, the environment and cultural hunting traditions were discussed and re-explored. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was an agreement signed in 2001 and into effect in 2004 to contain and regulate production and waste management that produce persistent organic pollutants.[i] Further discussion provide fruitful in raising awareness of this ongoing issue.
Another issue was resource development of oil and natural gas. It is estimated that “the region above the Arctic Circle accounts for only 6% of the Earth’s total surface area, [and] has the potential to hold as much as 20% of the world’s undiscovered, but recoverable, oil and natural gas resources (EYGM Limited 2013)”. Recent changes in environment have permitted greater accessibility to the North and its resources. While resource development is a major source of income and also the backbone for government programs in the North, development however poses problems in terms of their environmental degradation, contamination of soils and water. Technological advancement have reduced the environmental impacts, but communities argue that development still continues to be burden on the environment. Degradation of resources also affect the way of life and human rights of indigenous people, in particular the hunting, and fishing. In the past harsh climates, the lack of infrastructure, and capital have proven barriers to development, but with an increase of access along with low political risk and no public attention prove to be a concern for many circumpolar communities.
Another that had garnered time and attention was education in the North. While globalization has provided opportunities of integrating Northern communities with new communication technology, the challenges of greater integration, immigration for resource development has put pressures on education/skills training in the North. While there is a will and desire to include central importance to indigenous forms and sources knowledge, there is much further work to make this positive trend continue. The University of the Arctic and its 71 university networks and distance courses, offer limited opportunities. The history of the residential schools however only project the perception of acculturation and the lack of more colleges and universities in the Canada in the Arctic increasingly push students to study South.[ii]
And lastly, perhaps a quickly changing issue, concerned the lack of infrastructure and harsh weather seasons in the circumpolar North which affects issues of accessibility and food security. The problems with access to isolated communities and the degradation of the environment as a source of food aggravates the problem of access and quality of food. Part of the issue has been transportation to markets due to harsh weather and long distance. Environmental degradation has now more than ever affected traditional food obtained through herding, fishing, and hunting (caribou, muskox, reindeer, ﬁsh, seals, whales, walrus, moose, beaver, geese, and berries and plants). Food security has been changed and has affects profoundly a sense of traditional culture, identity, human rights and a sense of the future. Environmental degradation has also produced new startling conditions for cool-season crops, vegetables, small grains and, raising livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry) and reindeer herding while simultaneously and unpredictably changing the ecosystem with new insects and wildlife moving North.[iii]
The conference was exciting and full of new features rarely seen in academic circles. For further information, I have compiled below a short list of interesting websites on the subjects discussed at the conference:
Youth Arctic Coalition
Websites on environment
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
The Nordlands Research Institute
Arctic Human Development Report
Click here for Arctic Canadian Strategies
Click here for a collection of Founding and other documents/papers relating to the Arctic
For academic papers and resources on Aboriginal rights, please consult the following
for a bibliography see link below
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
University of the Arctic
WWF Canada and the Arctic