‘We need to be bold’ she says, ‘and ask ourselves if we are doing nothing but the best to protect biodiversity in the Arctic’. Standing tall, albeit small, Aile Javo from the Saami Council carries on; ‘Are we doing all we can, are we doing the right work with the Arctic Council?’
Her words are opening the Arctic Biodiversity Congress held in Trondheim. More than 400 people assembled from December 2 to 4 for this meeting organised by the Secreteriat of the Arctic Council. Diversity was the key of the event, not just in its main topic. People from all spheres related mingle here. All sectors are here; academic, commercial, local, civil society, industrial and scientific. Unlike other more high profile Arctic conferences, this congress is a platform for open discussions; Shell and Greenpeace in the same room, butting heads on the same level.
‘Arctic biodiversity is our food source, culture, heritage and identity’ reminds Carolina Behe, from the Inuit Circumpolar Council, to a crowd of scientists and policy makers. As talks about the importance of Arctic Biodiversity often forget about the peoples whose lives are woven into this land. Here, a small but strong contingent represents some of the peoples in the Arctic. Inuit, Aleut, Inuvialuit, Athapascan and Saami are here to prompt their voices in the ongoing debates about the Arctic. Their presence, unlike scientists presenting their academic work, is politically charged. Respect and trust is the clear message.
Sturdy statures, calm presence and sharp spirit, people like John Cheechoo and Frank Pokiak never miss the beat in adding their down-to-earth comments. During a panel on civil society, the WWF Arctic expressed how they use the polar bear as a flagship, to build awareness in the public’s imagination. To which Pokiak stands up and say ‘Arctic people don’t imagine the polar bears, they live with them!’ It is somewhat surprising that such comments need to be reminded at this point in time. It shows the pressing need for more events gathering people from all communities. A need for sessions of real talk about real issues. Perhaps it will seep into greater depths and somehow influence, at least a little bit. This is what Tom Barry of the CAFF Secretariat hopes and says is the best part of these events. This is what drives him; breaking down the barriers and frontiers, or at least promote a space for exchange. Seeing people learn and influence one another is the reward for all the effort poured into organization.
Meanwhile, the speed of decision-making does not match the speed of knowledge catching up. Risk and opportunities are never evenly distributed amongst those who are advantaged and disabled. Different people are gaining from the risk of others. Scientists claim the Arctic ecosystems are so fragile and future is uncertain, while Indigenous peoples claim their voices should be heard and acted upon, not just consulted.
Businesses and corporations move at incredible speed – it can seem hard, almost impossible to keep up. There is a need for consistency and robust plans that will insure successful implementation. It is a slow process. In a soft, collected voice, John Cheechoo says Inuit know things take time, they’re patient. Inuit want nothing more than to see these implementations, and know it’ll take time. Inuit in Canada don’t have the position to say ‘we don’t accept’ these developments.
Their processes are built into the constitution. People living up there since a long time and for a long time say; ‘we just need to do thing calmly and responsibly.’
all photo credits: Kate Harris – iisd.ca
Selena Raven Cordeau, author for FDCIP and student in the Master’s in Indigenous Studies at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.