I began that year in Finland watching lights on the Ounasjoki river while calling my parents to let them know I had arrived. I ended the year watching a friend wade into an afternoon forest for an impromptu berry picking session. She was wearing a pair of high-heeled boots and a fine black coat that stood out against the greens and yellows of nature and autumn.
Leaving your family to become independent is part of becoming an adult. Leaving behind the North and your traditions shouldn’t have to be. What is the point of learning if it doesn’t shed light on what is relevant to you, your family and your community? No one should ever have to trade their identity for higher education.
UArctic was my first introduction to the North and to international cooperation. It shaped my resume and the next twenty years in unexpected ways.
Thanks to UArctic, the connection between land, identity and policy has held the spokes of my professional life together. The understanding that some voices and interests are marginalized by virtue of geographic distance from places and people of influence has stayed with me. Perhaps more than anything else, I also have an appreciation for the collegial cooperation across boundaries that our world so desperately needs now.
UArctic was nothing if not an eye-opening experience of many people from many different places, separated by oceans, languages and politics, coming together to affirm their connection to place, and to bring those experiences to bear in education. The accomplishment that UArctic was and is has only become clearer to me over time.
Identifying a problem is easy. Solving one is much harder. That is the work of the courageous, the tenacious, the persuasive, and perhaps the happily ignorant. (Because if any of us knew what was required to accomplish some things, would we ever start?) But UArctic did begin. And speaking only for myself, my perspective on the world, and what is required to improve it, have been shaped for the better. Our little planet – with its troubles – could use more of what UArctic has to offer.
After the launch in 2001, my internship ended and I returned to Canada to reconnect with family, but a life in the city was not to be. I ended up with a job in Banff, Alberta working for Mountain Forum – another place-based, international network. It was an eight-month contract. I stayed seven years. Today I work with Parks Canada, the Canadian national park service.
From my mountain town, I send UArctic and its employees, volunteers, students and alumni my best wishes for a beautiful twenty years to come. If you find yourself in the Canadian Rockies, look me up. Bring news from UArctic and, if you can, a jar of puolukkahillo.
Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2017