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Two special internships

1 June 2023
The Arctic Council Secretariat (ACS) has been offering internships to students and early career professionals for the past decade. Kiira Keski-Nirva, one of the first interns, and Minetta Westerlund, the current intern, shared their insights about their experience working at the Secretariat.

Kiira Keski-Nirva from Finland started her internship at the ACS in January 2013, just at a time when the temporary ACS ended its six-year term of serving three consecutive Nordic Chairmanships and a standing Secretariat for the Council was being set up. She had the opportunity to work on various interesting tasks related to the establishment of the Secretariat, as well as preparations for the Kiruna Ministerial meeting. Kiira appreciated the level of responsibility she was given as an intern and recalls that there was a lot of trust and opportunity for young people to gain professional confidence at the ACS. “I especially remember the time when I was sent to Oslo to coordinate the set up for a Task Force meeting. Nina Buvang Vaaja (at the time the head of the temporary Secretariat) was an excellent Director who placed a lot of trust in her team.”

For Kiira, the internship at the ACS was especially interesting because she got to experience different working, governance and social cultures. One of the most memorable aspects was having the opportunity to see Indigenous Peoples in action at the Arctic Council, for example at the Kiruna Ministerial meeting. Kiira, who minored in Indigenous Studies, found it rewarding to see that shift from theory to practice. She completed her internship in 2014, finished her education in Communications and Indigenous Studies the same year, and was offered a work opportunity in Brussels, where she then moved.

Since then, eight interns have worked at the ACS. The team of five that Kiira worked with has grown into a team of 16 staff members. The offices have been relocated to accommodate everyone, and the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat and three of the Arctic Council Working Group secretariats have moved in under the same roof.

The current intern, Minetta Westerlund from Finland, moved to Tromsø to study Visual Anthropology. She became interested in Arctic issues when she did fieldwork with reindeer herders and sheep farmers on the outskirts of Tromsø, and luckily got an internship at the ACS when she was graduating. “The internship offered an exciting chance to work on Arctic issues and opportunities, with some of the most knowledgeable people from all over the Arctic,” she said. Despite starting her internship in the beginning of March 2022, just a few days before official Arctic Council meetings were paused, she's still had an interesting and rewarding internship.

“Even if the job tasks have changed somewhat for many at the Secretariat, the team spirit and work morale have been high. My colleagues have deemed this time as an opportunity to learn and explore, whether it is new ideas and formats for the Council, or development of personal skills. I have gotten to work on many exciting tasks with both the communications team and the administration team. Further in the spring, it will be intriguing to see what kind of tasks the Chairmanship transition process brings.”

Minetta had the opportunity to experience the transition of Chairmanship from the Russian Federation to Norway in May 2023. The last time Norway held the Chairmanship was from 2007-2009, so she feels privileged to participate in the transition process and the onset of the second Norwegian Chairship period.

According to Minetta, the Arctic Council's unique structure and cooperation, which extends beyond Arctic peoples and States, are immensely valuable. She believes it’ll be fascinating to witness Norway's leadership in this regard.

Looking forward

Kiira Keski-Nirva, after some years of working with non-Arctic issues, got a job at WWF in 2022. She’ll be working with their Arctic Programme during the Norwegian Chairship. As WWF is an Observer to the Arctic Council, she’s also working in an Arctic Council-related context. Working with Arctic issues again felt like returning home for Kiira, who recognized a clear link between her ACS internship and current job.

As for Minetta, when her internship ends in autumn 2023, she will take on a new role at the Arctic Council Secretariat as Interim Administrative and Communications Advisor. She’s determined to continue working on Arctic issues, and her time at the ACS has provided her with the necessary tools, knowledge and mindset to pursue her passion.