Arctic Youth Camp lets Inuit youth lead the way

“It is really amazing to get the opportunity to discuss climate innovation with other young people from the Arctic region”

The Arctic Youth Camp was held from Nov. 15 to Nov. 17 in Ottawa and brought Greenlandic and Canadian Inuit youth together to discuss climate change and innovation. (Photo from the Embassy of Denmark in Canada/Twitter)

By Kahlan Miron

Greenlandic and Canadian Inuit youth are crossing country divides to talk climate change.

From Nov. 15 to 17, over an unusually snowy Ottawa weekend, 12 Inuit youth came together to share their thoughts and experiences on climate change. The gathering marked the first-ever Arctic Youth Camp, which served to highlight Inuit youth voices and leadership, and promote partnership across borders.

Ottawa itself seemed primed for the Arctic-focused weekend. Though cooler than usual for the southern city, “with Arctic Youth Camp, you need a bit of snow,” said Danish Ambassador Hanne Fugl Eskjær, whose embassy sponsored the event in partnership with Students on Ice and Youth Climate Lab.

A reception at Eskjær’s residence on Nov. 15 helped kick off the camp. Policy-makers and Arctic ambassadors were in attendance that evening and were encouraged to network with the students.

The rest of the weekend focused on discussion and equipping students with tools to lead their own initiatives.

The Arctic Youth Camp students and Danish Ambassador Hanne Fugl Eskjær (centre) at a reception on Nov. 15. (Photo by Kahlan Miron)

In addition to discussions about local and global climate initiatives, as well as governance and leadership, students talked about their personal backgrounds and community histories. Students also had a chance to design and map out the steps needed to create a project, and later paired up to discuss how they’d like to follow up on their ideas after the camp finished.

Some prospective projects included ideas to develop environmentally responsible tourism in the North and promote youth-to-youth urban Inuit mentorships in Ottawa.

The Arctic Youth Camp wasn’t just about generating ideas, however. It was also about creating a comfortable and collaborative space. Language played a part in that, as students were encouraged to speak whatever language they were most comfortable with, whether that was English, Inuktut, Greenlandic or Danish.

It helped that many of the participants were also Students on Ice alumni, and had either been on expedition together or could connect through the experience.

“It’s really exciting because they don’t forget,” said Lynda Brown, the Students on Ice alumni team lead, at the Nov. 15 reception. “Even our [alumni] from the very first year remember what it was like to be on expedition.”

By creating projects and giving the students a chance to network, the Arctic Youth Camp kept a solutions-based focus on climate change.

“I think it’s been a wonderful opportunity to bring our [alumni] back and bring them to a wonderful program that I think highlights what we’re hoping to get to,” said Brown. “Not just talking about the problems, but talking about solutions. What can we do to make things better when we’re back home?”

For the future, students can stay connected through a Facebook group and maintain the connections they built over the weekend.

“It is really amazing to get the opportunity to discuss climate innovation with other young people from the Arctic region,” Aviaja Geisler Kristensen, a participant, said in a news release. “Especially because, though coming from the same region, we still have different perspectives and cultures which makes exchanging views and knowledge so important.”

Caitlyn Baikie, a Students on Ice alumna and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s policy advisor, speaks at a reception on Nov. 15 for the Arctic Youth Camp. (Photo by Kahlan Miron)

At the Nov. 15 reception, students also had a chance to hear from Caitlyn Baikie, a Students on Ice alumna and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s policy advisor. While her speech focused on her advocacy work and the importance of opportunities for Arctic youth, Baikie also had some important words to share with the youth in the room.

“It’s a really big thing that you’re here,” Baikie said. “That’s a great first step, and I know that all of you in the room will keep looking for those next steps … I encourage you to just keep putting yourself out there. I think that’s how progress is made.”

“Whether you feel like you’re [a rebel] or that person who’s trying to grab every opportunity, I say, do it.”

With the camp finished, the youth are free to continue their studies and pursue personal goals. Many of the Canadian Inuit participants are Nunavut Sivuniksavut students and will continue their studies there. The Greenlandic youth, meanwhile, came from a range of studies and activities—for example, one student is continuing their post-secondary studies in Wales, U.K., and Kristensen returned to her internship with Greenland’s representatives at the Danish embassy in Washington, D.C.

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