Strong voices from the Arctic
Close your eyes and think of the Arctic: what do you see? We’re willing to bet you’re seeing a picture of a barren white landscape, with maybe an iceberg or two, and a polar bear. In this issue of The Circle, we are inviting you to look closer into your mental picture of the Arctic, and to see the people who inhabit the landscape. People are present here, and they are often intimately affected by changes being triggered in their environments by people living far away.
Who are the people living in the Arctic? How are their lives influenced by the dramatic changes occurring in the region, as temperatures reach record high levels, the sea ice is melting with an alarming speed, and countries and companies compete for access to the wealth of arctic resources? How do people of the North cope with and adapt to these changes, and what is the role of traditional knowledge in these processes today? Is it possible to find a way forward to ensure a balance between resource exploitation on the one hand, and conservation of the Arctic’s unique and vulnerable natural values on the other? How do the arctic peoples themselves contribute to these processes?
These are some of the questions we asked in this issue of The Circle, which focuses on arctic peoples, or human response to arctic change.
As always, we have asked for contributions from some of the key people involved in analysing and trying to understand these issues. But most importantly, we have invited people who live in the Arctic to share their perspectives; people from a variety of countries, backgrounds, cultures and professions – from the student/fisherman in Norway to Indigenous leaders and the Premier of Greenland.
According to the Arctic Council, around four million people live in the Arctic. These people are spread out over one sixth of the Earth’s landmass and cover 24 time zones, and include over thirty different Indigenous peoples and dozens of languages.
With such a population diversity, we did not expect anything else than a diversity of opinion in terms of what the challenges and solutions are.
But some important trends emerge. The people in today’s Arctic are living through some of the most dramatic changes the region has ever experienced. They are in many ways living on the margins of the rest of the world, in terms of geography, but sometimes also in terms of access to resources, decision-making and human development. But as the world is turning its attention to the Arctic and its possibilities and its challenges, the peoples of the North have strong opinions. They want to be included in the discussions and they demand to be listened to. After all, these are the people who can call the Arctic their home.