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The Arctic’s Emerging Young Leaders

Sixteen Young Leaders Who Will Influence the Future of the Arctic

Meet the people who stand apart when it comes to improving education, fighting climate change, boosting international collaboration and revitalizing Indigenous culture in the Arctic. They are the ones we’ll be watching in the years to come.

Written by Hannah Hoag, Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 8 minutes
The next generation of Arctic leaders is already tackling the issues of climate change, education, Indigenous rights and economic development.Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/Rough 21

In the year since Arctic Deeply launched, we’ve noticed that several names keep coming up over and over again. Whether we were covering climate change or Arctic shipping routes, oil and gas or Inuit education, the work of a group of educators, activists, filmmakers, scientists and policy shapers consistently amazed and inspired. Their mentors have praised them for their achievements, their peers have applauded their contributions to their communities.

As we can only expect to hear more from them in 2017 and beyond, we wanted to recognize these young leaders for their achievements. Some of these faces and stories will be familiar, but we hope to introduce you to some new people, too.

Read on to find out more about the 16 young leaders we think will leave their mark on the future of the Arctic. And stay tuned for more in-depth conversations with each of them. We can’t wait to see what they’ll do.

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

“How does a culture with an understated anger fight against a group that’s infamous for the exact opposite behavior?” – from “Angry Inuk”

Snapshot: Arnaquq-Baril is an Inuk documentary filmmaker based in Iqaluit, who produces films about Inuit culture as a way to bring Inuit stories to the world. Her most recent feature-length documentary, “Angry Inuk,” about Inuit who challenge animal rights activists about seal hunting, premiered at the 2016 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and has been amassing awards ever since. She tweets from @Alethea_Aggiuq.

Mia Bennett

“I’ve come to realize the Arctic is just as global a place as any.”

Snapshot: Bennett, 28, lives in Los Angeles, where she researches transportation infrastructure and natural resource development in the north for her PhD in political geography at UCLA. She also blogs about her northern adventures and insights on Cryopolitics. Motivation: The many ways in which globalization is connecting the northernmost reaches of the world into globe-spanning circuits of people, trade and finance. Vision: A diverse Arctic economy that emphasizes local, renewable projects, where communities are consulted in a genuine and holistic manner. Follow her on Twitter @miageografia or at Cryopolitics.

Erlend Moster Knudsen

“With cycling and running you interact with a lot more people than you would if you were just sitting behind your desk.”

Snapshot: In 2015, Knudsen, 30, a recent PhD grad in polar science, launched “Pole to Paris” with his friend Daniel Price, an Antarctic climate researcher, and ran 3,000km (1,860 miles) from Tromsø, Norway, to Paris to raise awareness of climate change. Moment: During his run through northern Norway, Knudsen met Layla Inga, a Saami woman who worried about her family’s traditional livelihood – more winter rain put the reindeer they herded at risk of starvation. Vision: A world in which it is possible for countries to collaborate for the greater good of all people. He’s on Twitter @ErlendMK and @poletoparis.

Kyla Kakfwi Scott

“When I look around my community, I see a lot of vision, innovation and a super-passionate community of people ready to tackle big issues with integrity.”

Snapshot: Kakfwi Scott, 35, lives in Yellowknife, where she advises the government of the Northwest Territories on its anti-poverty plan, chairs the selection committee for the Arctic Inspiration Prize and works with Dene Nahjo, the social and cultural innovation organization she cofounded in 2013. Motivation: Finding ways to connect youth to their Indigenous culture. Inspiration: Lots of people, including her parents, Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territories, and Marie Wilson, who was, most recently, the commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Follow her on Twitter @Feathermaker and @DeneNahjo.

Nina Larsson

“Nothing can be done with one person doing the work. It is the community’s work that is important.”

Snapshot: Larsson, 31, is a senior advisor in early childhood development for the government of the Northwest Territories, the founder of a biomass energy company, Energy North, and a cofounder of Dene Nahjo (see above), which spearheaded the Indigenous Circumpolar Women’s Gathering in 2014. Vision: “Land, language and culture forever,” is what guides Dene Nahjo. Motivation: All children and youth, so that they might be immediately connected to their culture. She tweets at @nina_ayiku.

Maatalii Okalik

“I try to lead by example.”

Snapshot: Okalik, president of the National Inuit Youth Council, is from Nunavut and is studying human rights, political science and aboriginal studies. At the recent climate change summit in Morocco, Canada’s minister of the environment and climate change introduced Okalik as “an incredible young leader for the Canadian Arctic and a strong voice for Inuit youth.” In April she was presented with the Outstanding Young Woman Award from the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council. Motivation: To make known the aspirations of Inuit youth and the barriers they face in achieving their dreams. Priorities: Language, culture, suicide prevention, education and empowerment, and reconciliation. She’s on Twitter at @maatalii.

Jordan Peterson

“If we don’t understand where we come from, we won’t understand where we’re going.”

Snapshot: Peterson, 29, lives in Inuvik, where he is the vice president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, an organization representing 3,500 people living in the Mackenzie Delta of the Northwest Territories. He is a Jane Glassco Northern Fellow and cochair of Our Voices, a Yukon-based group for emerging leaders. Focus: Self-government and the “Many Rivers” project that sends youth to Dechinta University for coursework on Indigenous culture and land-based knowledge and on a paddling adventure through the massive Peel River watershed, which has recently been at the center of court battles over resources development. Vision: A future where borders and barriers between communities are erased and true collaboration occurs. Follow him on Twitter @gwichinpeterson.

Mikhail Pogodaev

Snapshot: Raised in a reindeer-herding family in Topolinoe, in the Sakha Republic of Russia, Pogodaev is the chair of the Association of World Reindeer Herders. He has a PhD in economics and was recently named the executive director of the Northern Forum, an international organization of subnational and regional governments from eight northern countries.

Jean Polfus

“When you do research, it’s not just about the science, data and facts that you collect, it’s about becoming a more rounded person by finding ways to collaborate with people and discovering new innovations.”

Snapshot: Polfus is an ecologist and artist, who recently completed her PhD at the University of Manitoba, where she studied caribou populations in the Sahtú Region of the Northwest Territories. Polfus worked with the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board (Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı) and five Renewable Resources Councils (Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę) to combine traditional knowledge, Dene language and genetic research to understand the types of caribou that live in the region, to help with management and conservation. Follow her on Twitter @JeanPolfus, on Tumbler and on Google Scholar.

Allen Pope

“We will need to work together, across national and disciplinary boundaries, to ensure a bright (and scientifically based) future for the Arctic.”

Snapshot: Pope, 30, is moving from Boulder, Colorado, to Akureyri, Iceland, where he will head up the International Arctic Science Committee. Mission: To encourage international and interdisciplinary Arctic science. Motivation: People and the planet, connecting with each other and understanding the processes that shape the Earth. Vision: Arctic 2026: collaborative, connected and committed to improved scientific understanding of the region. He’s on Twitter @PopePolar.

Anna Reetta Rönkä

“When it comes to loneliness and other related negative socio-emotional issues like violence, substance abuse and suicide, the Arctic area represents an especially fragile context.”

Snapshot: Rönkä, 31, lives in Oulu, Finland, where she is wrapping up her PhD research on loneliness among young adults born in northern Finland. Vision: An Arctic where young people can live happy, safe, meaningful lives. Getting there: Investing in the individual. Investing in the community. Collaboration between academia, government, industry and business. Follow her on Twitter @anna_ronka.

Angela Nuliayok Rudolph

“As a young Inuk woman in a modern society, it often feels as though there are still constant barriers and issues to overcome.”

Snapshot: Rudolph, 28, is an Inuk from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. A former teacher, she now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, where she is a graduate student focused on Indigenous Arctic policy and education. She is currently a Jane Glassco Northern Fellow. Inspiration: Rudolph chose to become a teacher after she participated in Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a cultural and academic program for Inuit youth. The program and its staff continue to inspire her. Priorities: Finding ways to decolonize education so that Inuit students can thrive.

Esau Sinnok

“Whenever I make decisions, I always think of the next seven generations, the next leaders, the next Esau Sinnok Juniors.”

Snapshot: Sinnok, 19, was raised in Shishmaref, Alaska, but studies in Fairbanks, where he is majoring in tribal management and rural development, with a focus on community health and wellness. He attended the Paris climate talks in 2015 as a U.S. Arctic Youth Ambassador. Motivation: His uncle Norman, who died after falling through the ice on his snow machine one day in June 2007. Climate change has already affected Sinnok and his family personally and now threatens to wash away his entire village. Vision: More renewable energy in rural villages.

Jannie Staffansson

“I’m fighting for the survival of the reindeer and for the survival of the culture.”

Snapshot: Staffansson, 26, is an environmental chemist living in northern Sweden, where she works on environmental issues for the Saami Council. She was a powerful voice for Indigenous peoples at the climate change summit in Paris in 2015 and again at the 2016 climate conference in Morocco, speaking out about Indigenous rights. Moment: Realizing that Saami with vital information about climate change were not being listened to because they were not well educated by Western standards. Statement: After language ensuring the rights of Indigenous peoples was struck from the draft of the Paris agreement, Staffansson addressed the press: “We are the persons who are dying,” she said. “How can our voices be silenced multiple times, and then again?” She’s on Twitter @JannieStaffanss.

Marjorie Tahbone

“I’ve dedicated my life to perpetuating our culture for the betterment of our people and our youth for the next generation” – from “Ancient Ink Reborn.”

Snapshot: Tahbone, who grew up in Nome, Alaska, has a degree in Iñupiaq and Alaska Native studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She is revitalizing the practice of Inuit tattooing, a tradition women once followed to commemorate important life events, using hand-poking and skin-stitching methods.

Katherine Weingartner

“The Arctic is going through a major transition and faces questions of how to make sure people can retain their culture amid this change.”

Snapshot: Weingartner, 26, managed the Arctic Summer College program, which connects students and professionals to improve governance and sustainable development in the Arctic. She is a former fellow of the Ecologic Institute in Washington, D.C., where she focused on energy, environment and Arctic issues. Vision: A better standard of living for those in the Arctic. Motivation: The ways we manage climate change will have a lasting effect on future generations.

Check back next week as we launch our in-depth conversations with each of these young leaders.

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