For the first time, 3 indigenous leaders took the Arctic Circle Assembly stage as main speakers during the opening session. And the message is clear; You are welcome to cooperate but on our terms.
Mary Simon (75), Governor General of Canada, Múte B. Egede (35), Prime Minister of Greenland, and Sara Olsvig (44), International Chair for the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC).
3 clear voices representing Canadian and Greenland indigenous people were invited as main speakers during the opening session at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, Thursday.
"This is the first time," states Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Chairman of the Arctic Circle and former President of Iceland.
And although they represent different countries and organizations, their message was unanimous; There is no real democracy without indigenous people at the table.
As Greenland's young Prime Minister took the stage, he was quick to set the tone for the opening session:
"Everyone is welcome to our beautiful country if you respect and listen to us. When the focus is on us and on Greenland, it must be on our terms. For Greenland is the Arctic, and the Arctic is Greenland."
The indigenous leader appeared relaxed and in a good mood, quick to smile, as he repeated the now well-known term:
"Nothing about us without us."
He said that the country welcomes opinions from the outside world, but decisions concerning the Arctic and Greenland must be made by the indigenous people and people who have the Arctic as their home.
As a country that through history has not been heard and was isolated for a long time, they do not want to become spectators of their own life or world events once again.
“Greenland is a part of the world, and we are taking and accepting responsibility even as the world becomes increasingly uncertain. We must walk together to safeguard the future of the world,” says Egede, who has held the position of Prime Minister since April 2021.
Luck is not a strategy.
At the forefront
“We must honor the Arctic as a zone of low tension and cooperation, where indigenous people have been at the forefront in maintaining and embracing the dialogue of all Arctic states, including the Arctic Council,” said Egede to the cheering crowd of Harpa concert hall.
The increased attention Greenland has received over the years shows no sign of slowing down. Ever since the former President of the USA, Donald Trump wanted to buy the island in 2019, Greenland has had the eyes of investors and power states directed at it, and it has become a popular tourist destination.
A fact that the Prime Minister is well aware of.
“We are therefore preparing to receive the many people who wish to visit us in the future by building infrastructure and hotels. It has become Greenland's policy to ensure sustainable economy and growth, and I am happy that our friends and allies in the Arctic also hold this perspective”, said Egede and adds that they will not be silent and passive spectators to the climate changes, but want to participate in the global green shift.
Set an example
And he thinks Greenland has the solution.
“In Greenland, we prioritize renewable energy. We are rich in water resources and we have great opportunities for export. We recently invited investors to open up dialogue on how we can best develop the recourses to benefit the people of Greenland and the rest of the world. We want to take responsibility and action for the green transition.”
Going forward, Greenland wants to set an example for the world to follow.
“We live in a huge country with a small population. But we act and the rest of the world should follow us. Climate change threatens our supply lines and food security and we cannot rely on luck as luck is not a strategy. We must collaborate,” says Egede.
“So when a country like Greenland with around 57 000 inhabitants and Iceland with 300 000 inhabitants can make a green transition and have renewable energy, why can not the big countries with even bigger economies not do the same? If we can, you can! It is not time to talk, it is time for action,” states Egede.
Agreement with Iceland
To demonstrate that Greenland means business, Egede signed a new cooperation agreement with the Prime Minister of Iceland just before the opening of the conference.
“This is our way of doing it. To act and not just talk. We are one world, we breathe the same air and live under the same sun," says Egede, happy to share the stage with Iceland.
Oil exploration in the Icelandic economic zone will be prohibited by law.
“Today at 12 O´clock Prime Minister Mute B. Egede of Greenland and I signed a declaration of cooperation between Greenland and Iceland, making way for even closer collaboration between our countries in many important fields,” confirms Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir (46).
As part of the opening session at Arctic Circle, Jakobsdóttir used the platform to applaud Greenland's firm stand on renewable energy as well as the decision of the Greenlandic home government not to allow oil exploration.
“The Nordic countries will be unrecognizable within a few decades if immediate action is not taken, says Jakobsdóttir and adds to applause;
“Oil exploration in the Icelandic economic zone will be prohibited by law.”
Although not indigenous, Jakobsdottir supports the indigenous leaders' plea to stop climate change and change the way we live.
She says the development in the Arctic is happening quickly, but the positive thing is increased scientific cooperation and knowledge and an increased focus on green solutions.
“However, the challenges would be greater than ever and the Arctic region may become unrecognizable within a few decades if not adequately addressed immediately.”
Everything is changing, extreme weather is all over the world, glaciers are receding and temperatures are higher than before.
“This will not be an easy task. We need to make and accelerate the change going from a carbon-dependent economy to a green economy,” says Jakobsdottir.
Although more soft-spoken than Egede and Jakobsdottir, Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, also made it clear who she represents from the stage at Arctic Circle.
I am also here as an indigenous person who calls the Arctic her home.
“I am here as General Governor of Canada, but I am also here as an indigenous person who calls the Arctic her home. And I am proud to see the strong representation of Northern Canadian youth. Young people need to be sitting at the table, participating in the dialogue,” the veteran says.
She states that the voices of the youth are important to discussions of the future of the Arctic, which today has emerged as a global strategic region.”
“While the future of the circumpolar region remains bright, we also face many challenges. It will take all of us to make sure we remain on the right path for the benefit of Northern indigenous peoples and everyone else who calls the Arctic their home,” says Simon, who took an important part in the formation of the Arctic Council in 1996.
In June, Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark together with Greenland signed a new boundary agreement resolving a long-standing maritime dispute when both countries agreed to split the disputed Hans island in the Nares Strait in half.
Simon says that the agreement demonstrates Canada's commitment to rule-based international order and maintains a shared ambition for the Arctic as a region of international cooperation.
Still a way to go
Sara Olsvig from Greenland also took the stage as a “proud Inuit standing here today addressing the 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly on behalf of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC).”
“I am proud of this room filled with intellect, visions and desire to learn and listen. I am proud that I am standing here following generations of Inuit leadership who paved the way for our people to be part of the global dialogue. Also through hard and difficult times,” Olsvig says.
“We have contributed to the development of a world that recognizes complexity and diversity. It has not been and it is not an easy task. And there is still a way to go. That is why forums like the Arctic Circle are so instrumental. It is so important to have all voices and people involved,” Olsvig calmly states.
She stresses that indigenous people must be included in any decision about the Arctic, on all levels.
“The Arctic Council is not the Arctic Council without the indigenous people. Arctic governance is not democratic without indigenous peoples' participation”, says Olsvig, prepared to keep up the good fight;
“The values of Arctic governance built over decades with Arctic indigenous peoples and nations as moral leaders and the legitimizing representatives of the Arctic is under pressure. How we collectively respond today will determine the future of Arctic democracy and the future we leave in the hands of our children and grandchildren”, the Council Chair finishes.
Chair of the Arctic Circle Assembly, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who also moderated the opening closed by stating the undeniable mood of the room;
“I do not think that the message from indigenous leaders has ever been so clear and so bold,” concludes Grimsson.