In the spring of 2020, a youth panel of some 50 young people from all over Northern Norway was established to advise the government in its work on a new Arctic whitepaper. And their message is clear: A good Arctic policy should not be a pie in the sky, but rather concretely aimed at the people living in Northern Norway.
It should not only be focused on climate and environment in the Arctic, fish quotas or spy cases.
17-year-old Marthe Øijord from Meløy in Nordland County represents Nordland in the Youth District Panel. She is well pleased with the message they have submitted to the government.
“Say ‘we’, not ‘they’”
“This is an unfiltered message in which the most important thing is to communicate an understanding of what it is like to be young in the High North. How we are doing here”, Øijord says in a phone interview with High North News.
She is in Meløy in North Norway where she is in her second year of secondary school.
The 17-year-old is planning for a future as a fish farmer. But that requires circumstances in place for a complete life, and this whitepaper represents a start.
“Building a reputation is important. We want a government that includes us and says ‘we’ when it speaks of Northern Norway, not ‘they’.
Politicians: Take care of that which we are to live from when we become your bosses!
The 17-year-old stresses the importance of full-fledged opportunities in education and culture for making young people remain in the High North.
“I may get a family once. I need to know that they have permanent education opportunities and leisure activities. There should also be a job available for my partner.”
Stability is a key word.
Drawing the Sami flag is not enough
The Youth Panel’s Arctic whitepaper has dedicated a full chapter to the Sami perspective. Øijord has 12 years of school without ever having learned much more than drawing the Sami flag.
“The Sami in Norway are more than this. Sami culture and history should be included in primary education curriculum. Having a week of Sami food and flag-drawing is not enough. We should learn about the forced norsification and diversity of the Sami population”, says Øijord, who argues that the Arctic policy should be about those who live in the High North.
Youth are the future of Northern Norway, and we need to talk about what they need in order to want to remain there.
“We care about what happens here and we need lasting opportunities, not talk and one-off’s”, Øijord says.
Want to be included in business
The young need something lasting to look forward to, something happening at regular intervals. Not just one off’s with pomp and splendor, with everybody leaving afterwards. Initiatives and opportunities should be lasting. And the young would love to be included in the dialogue and planning of industry and trade.
“We have to create jobs where the industries are. The values must benefit those of us who live here. We do not want a situation where resources are extracted and moved south while Northern Norway is depicted as a straw sucking resources from the state’s treasury chest rather than being a contributor to the Norwegian economy. Our natural resources should be refined in the High North. It does not help having plenty of fish in the sea here if all of it is shipped to China for processing”, the youth panel writes.
The youth panel points to the fact that many young people experience increased centralization in the High North and that it does not motivate them to stay.
“Young people want to live where we feel we belong and are included in decisions. When we see opportunities removed from rural areas, we perceive that as poor knowledge of the conditions in the High North. If the government wants to develop Northern Norway, centralization has to stop”, the panel writes.
It argues that the recent regional reform has been demotivating for young people in Troms and Finnmark, and detrimental for the relationship with Oslo. There has been a perception of use of force and of not being included in the conversation about important decisions made. The counties were forcibly joined yet are more divided now.
“At the Agenda Northern Norway conference in 2019, the Prime Minister said the Arctic whitepaper was to become young people’s Arctic whitepaper too, through a youth panel. We are curious to see what happens after the presentation of this whitepaper. That is what is most important to us. Genuine youth inclusion is when our opinions are transformed into practical policies”, the whitepaper says.
The youth panel consists of a varied group of 50 youth from Nordland, Troms and Finnmark counties. Participants are 16-28 years of age. Several are active in politics, sports, culture, or as entrepreneurs. What they all share is that they have opinions about societal development in the High North.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.