credit: Linnea Nordström
credit: Linnea Nordström

Youth shaping the Arctic

Arctic Indigenous youth leadership through Permanent Participants’ Youth Network

“We are not just the future but also the present,” stated around 30 Arctic Indigenous youth who had gathered in Rovaniemi, Finland in November 2019 for the first Arctic Youth Leaders’ Summit (AYLS) which took place alongside the sixth Arctic Leaders’ Summit. AYLS is a dedicated summit for Indigenous youth to promote youth engagement in the Arctic Leaders’ Summit. The Youth Summit offers an opportunity for rising Indigenous leaders from across the Arctic to learn about each other’s homelands, discuss issues of joint concern and build their networks and skills in international cooperation. The Summit served as a platform to start Arctic Indigenous youth cooperation and later the Permanent Participants’ (PP) Youth Network. At the Summit, the Arctic Indigenous youth called for more active involvement in the issues that affect them and reminded everyone about their present leadership role while presenting their first AYLS declaration. In November 2020, the PP Youth arranged an online anniversary of the first Arctic Youth Leaders’ Summit (AYLS) that attracted 70 participants around the Arctic.

Permanent Participants’ Youth Network

Following the discussions of the Senior Arctic Officials’ meeting in Hveragerði in 2019 and in the aftermath of the AYLS, the PPs took action by starting their youth initiative in 2020 - The PP Youth Network. The Network gathers youth representatives from each of the six PP organizations, who meet monthly to discuss topics related to the Arctic Council. Some of the PPs have practiced youth engagement in the work of the Arctic Council already before 2020 by having youth representatives in their official delegations to the Arctic Council meetings. Some PPs have youth councils, youth initiatives and youth training and capacity building programs, such as the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) Youth Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Emerging Leaders program and the Saami Council’s internships and capacity-building courses, the last one taking place in 2015-2018 co-organized together with ICC Greenland. Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA), as part of the Aleut International Association (AIA), arranged a Young Leaders Summit and a virtual training for young Unangax leaders in January 2021. Gwich’in Council International (GCI) is developing a Youth Ambassadors Program to start in summer-fall of 2021.

Youth stepping into the leadership role

The PP youth were represented at the opening session of the Arctic Resilience Forum (ARF) 2020 devoted to the Arctic Indigenous Youth Leadership. The session explored the challenges that Indigenous youth face, and what crises are affecting them. The ARF 2020 was launched by consulting Indigenous youth about their aspirations and needs to become resilient Arctic leaders. PP youth from AIA and RAIPON also gave their statements during the Arctic Frontiers 2021 high-level panel devoted to the Arctic Council’s 25th anniversary. The youth statements underscored the decrease of Indigenous languages and the need for youth involvement in discussions of strategic matters and issues of Arctic Indigenous peoples. In addition, in January 2021, many PP youth representatives attended the James J. McCarthy Leadership Seminar for Arctic Indigenous Youth Leaders organized by Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Association of World Reindeer Herders (AWRH) and the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR).

In the future, the youth wish to see more opportunities for them to be involved at every level of the work of the Arctic Council. They also hope to see more Indigenous leadership in the Arctic to tackle some of the biggest issues and concerns: “I hope to see more leadership and input from Indigenous peoples in the Arctic. We are seeing our world change faster than anyone else, and it’s going to take our perspectives to create the positive changes that need to occur,” said Darling Anderson, AIA youth representative.

We are seeing our world change faster than anyone else, and it’s going to take our perspectives to create the positive changes that need to occur. Darling Anderson

PP youth focal points’ comments on Arctic Indigenous youth leadership

Darling Anderson
Aleut International Association (AIA) Youth representative

“In Indigenous leadership, there is diversity. Diversity of age, profession, knowledge, etc. As we continue to acknowledge that we need all these perspectives for decision making, our leadership is strengthened. These decisions continue to make positive impacts on Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. This type of leadership helps to create a cycle between all parts of our societies and allows us to be inclusive of all members of our communities.”

Joshua Vo
Inuit Circumpolar Council Youth representative

“The involvement of youth in Indigenous leadership is very important as it produces fresh perspective and insight for Indigenous issues and concerns. Allowing Indigenous youth to becoming proactive through engagement strengthens Indigenous values: Lifting up and encouraging the young to become contributing members of the community and valued as the future caretakers of Indigenous heritage, culture, tradition and values. Indigenous youth have the responsibility to learn their traditional ways of life and envision the future of their communities."

Deenaalee Hodgdon
Arctic Athabascan (AAC) Youth representative

“There is no leadership without community. A leader’s community is their backbone, the energy they must center to move forward in their leadership in a good way. While attending Arctic Futures 2050, a United States Corneal posed this question to me, ‘Who is sitting on your bench of mentorship?’ In this question, he was asking about who I look to as mentors and in turn, who am I mentoring. Growing up Deg Xit’an, there is an understanding that your inherited mentors are the Elders of the community, Sitse (Grandmothers) and Sitsiy (Grandfather) and so on and so forth. This is also why the role of Siq’uy and Vitoy (Aunt and Uncle) is so crucial. These positions, whether they come through blood relation or not, teach us to step into our own roles as mentors to the next generation. In the globalized world that we now live in, the role of mentor/menteeship takes on new meaning as we look to mentors from our own communities and have the ability to interweave with knowledge holders from across a multitude of backgrounds. As our generation moves into a stage of life where we are stepping into leadership positions, we must ground ourselves in the reciprocity that these roles ask for.”

Enni Similä
Saami Council Youth representative

“Including youth in leadership is important for many reasons; first of all, we the youth are the future generation and the future experts and leaders and need to be able to affect our future. If youth can dream and hope for the future, it ensures resilience in our Arctic Indigenous communities. Also, by including youth in leadership at an early stage, the intergenerational communication is secured – Elders in our communities hold valuable knowledge whereas young people bring new and fresh ideas.
When youth are engaged at an early stage it also provides an opportunity to build strong networks. We can already see concrete results from the Arctic Youth Leaders’ Summit in 2019 when we see where the network, that we have built, has brought us. I believe it’s much easier for us to continue the valuable collaboration later when we have planted the seed already now. And we can already see how far we have managed to get when we work together and therefore, I am eager and thrilled to see where our collaboration will bring us. I think leadership courses, like the James J. McCarthy Leadership Seminar for Arctic Indigenous Youth Leaders, are important for youth to learn more about leadership in Indigenous communities and also to build a network across the world.”

Olga Nikolaeva
RAIPON Youth representative

“It is very important to organize a platform for the Indigenous youth where we could unite and share our experiences. For example, Russian Indigenous youth movement has existed since 1998. Our Youth council organizes several annual events for our youth, and it would be great to invite Indigenous youth from all over the Arctic on our meetings and activities during Russian Chairmanship events. It is amazing that our Peoples share common values and traditions, so we hope to pass it on to future generations. And we never should forget that unity is our strength.”

Ivan Trofimov
RAIPON Youth representative

“The leadership of the youth of Indigenous Peoples has to be based on preserving traditions, the continuity of generations, and the involvement of youth in the social movement of Indigenous Peoples. Nowadays, due to globalization, we are facing that our youth is involved in different activities and it is affected by the development of new digital technologies. In this regard, learning native languages, culture, traditional knowledge (including reindeer herding) fade into the background. Therefore, we need to educate the young generation, so traditions of our ancestors and the covenants of our elders will be preserved, and so will be the involvement of Indigenous people in the movement.”