Last week, while Arctic Council officials met behind closed doors in Yellowknife, Greenpeace Canada staff met with community members to listen and take action on local concerns for the future of their home. Below are some reflections on the activities from two of Greenpeace Canada’s Arctic Campaigners.
Kiera Kolson: A Northern perspective on the Arctic’s future
Climate change impacts caused by the culmination of human activity across the planet demand immediate global unification and accountability for consequences felt by the fragile Northern ecosystem many of us call home. When the Arctic Council formed, its outlined objectives were to protect the Arctic environment and inhabitants and to foster sustainable development. But with today’s reality of short-sighted, boom-bust projects in and around my home, I admit I am concerned. I am concerned about the water. I am concerned about the air and animals, about the quality of life I will have to offer to those not yet born. With Canada chairing the Arctic Council and their evident disregard for Northern voices, I too am concerned about the future the North awaits.
High interest filled our dialogue space at Northern United Place in Yellowknife on Sunday March 30 with discussions on the harms of fracking, off shore oil drilling, and water quality to name a few.
The space was opened by a beautiful elder who blessed the meal, a spirit plate was offered up, the space was filled with food, conversation and courageous Northerners who have been left out of far too many conversations pertaining to our home, our future and democracy in this country. We facilitated a dialogue and provided information on the Arctic Council’s past, present and future. As well, we presented on the goals of our Arctic campaign and areas where we are supporting other Northern regions which are currently enduring oil spill disasters. The space was closed with a few words from myself. As the Arctic Campaigner in the North, I wanted to ensure that my community fully knew and understood why and how I am involved in this work as well as how Greenpeace is supporting our traditional values, way of life and subsistence hunting.
Kiera Kolson is and Arctic Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. She lives and works in Yellowknife.
Farrah Khan: Demanding transparency from the Arctic Council
Last week I took my very first trip to a Canadian Territory. A chance to visit the Greenpeace office in Yellowknife, to spend time hearing from locals about the future of their home, and to take citizens’ demands directly to the Arctic Council meeting held in Yellowknife behind closed doors.
Arriving as a guest on Akaitcho Territory, on Chief Dry Geese land, I felt so warmly welcomed by each person I encountered – local residents, business owners, politicians, journalists – and I sensed many of us shared a common desire to protect the Arctic from the hands of developers seeking to profit off the land at any cost. I heard that Northerners want and need development on their own terms. Jobs and economic prosperity that will not sap their natural resources and line the pockets of industry executives, but will provide multi-generational employment opportunities and respect traditional ways of life and environmental preservation.
On the morning of the invite-only Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials meeting on March 25th (coincidentally one day after the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster) we gathered outside of the meeting venue with a group of concerned Northerners who held a banner and placards with their own words: “Arctic Council: No more hiding behind closed doors,” “No more lost tribes at the hands of development,” “Arctic drilling = spilling,” “Involve the people,” and “Honour your mandate.”
As Arctic Officials arrived, we welcomed them, shook hands, exchanged smiles, and distributed pamphlets in four languages - French, English, Gwich'in, and Inuktitut - about the Save the Arctic campaign. Healthy dialogue followed, about a major criticism from the community: decisions about Arctic governance must include an open dialogue with anyone those decisions will impact. Northern residents and communities impacted by climate change worldwide will not tolerate decisions for many, made by an elite few.
We will continue to connect with our friends in the North and we will continue to hold the governments represented at the Arctic Council accountable for their actions.
Farrah Khan is an Arctic Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada based in Toronto.