BY GRIFFIN PLUSH
For the UAS Whalesong
Recently, I attended the Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) Conference in Anchorage as an Arctic Youth Ambassador. Hundreds of scientists, activists, and international dignitaries gathered at the Dena’ina Center to discuss and learn about the many issues that face us in a changing Alaska and a changing Arctic.
I serve as one of five inaugural U.S. Arctic Youth Ambassadors that have brought the stories of our changing homes to world leaders. With the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Geographic we met with Secretary Kerry, Secretary Jewell, Senator Murkowski, and many other leaders to bring our diverse perspectives. This program is continuing for the next two years over the course of the U.S Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Ten to fifteen more ambassadors from around the state will join us to engage with the Arctic Council.
My fellow ambassadors are leaders among their peers with powerful reasons for caring about the Arctic. James Chilcote, a Gwich’in Athabaskan from Arctic Village is a freshman at UAF. James grew up in Arctic Village, where his family and him rely on the perpetually returning Porcupine Caribou herd. As climate changes, the migration patterns of these caribou change and the lichen that the caribou eat disappear. In an interview James said, “The way my home is, my way of life – it’s very indigenous. I don’t like to say it, but I believe it is the very last place like it in North America. I would do anything to keep that place safe.”
Another youth ambassador was Byron Nicholai from Toksook Bay in the YK Delta. He performs traditional Yup’ik music as “I Sing. You Dance.” He was given the opportunity to perform a song titled “I Am Yup’ik” in front of a crowd of important politicians and dignitaries at GLACIER’s reception in the Anchorage Museum.
The various speakers and panelists throughout the conference brought the problems that we face in the Arctic into focus. In one of the morning sessions the mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough, Reggie Joule, showed us that 86% of the borough’s communities faced erosion. At least four communities in Alaska like Newtok and Kivalina are currently planning to relocate because their villages are literally falling into the water. After the rest of the presentations the panelists discussed where the resources to combat this widespread threat will come from and how they will be deployed.
We sat down to lunch and had some nice discussions with members of foreign delegations who were very interested in what Alaska is like. An excited diplomat who had just flown in the night before wanted to know if it was Denali they saw from their window and we fielded questions about the different communities in the state.
Evon Peter, an Elder from Arctic Village and vice-chancellor at UAF spoke at lunch. He addressed the need to reverse the effects of colonization of the Arctic’s indigenous peoples as we move forward in the far North.
When President Obama made a historic visit to the state where he visited Anchorage, Seward, Dillingham, and Kotzebue, his first stop was GLACIER. In the concluding remarks of the conference, he called for us to work together and act on climate change. The issues we face in the north are very real. And they are going to continue to be relevant to all of us, even here in Juneau. If we work together, we can address these critical issues and face our changing future. But we have to act now.
BY GRIFFIN PLUSH