UNBC opened up northern possibilities to me in the realm of international relations – both in study and practice – after being told numerous times in my undergraduate classes that there was nothing going on in the Arctic and that it was not worth studying. Twenty years later, that seems like a ridiculous notion, but in some ways the ‘circumpolar world’ in 1996 was just lines on a map. It would take the person-to-person, institution-to-institution, people-to-people and country-to-country interaction and cooperation of the next twenty years to create a new generation that thought of themselves as citizens with a circumpolar identity, belonging to a common region. One of the first steps in creating that region – and for my own circumpolar identity – was the Northern Consortium Student Mobility program.
Outi Snellman of the University of Lapland and the late Aron Senkpiel of Yukon College had the idea to create a pilot mobility program between Canada’s three northern colleges, plus UNBC, and a small number of universities in northern Europe. When I discovered the possibility of going abroad, I knew precisely where I wanted to go: Rovaniemi. For a student of northern politics, despite being a small city on the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi was a hub. The birthplace of the Rovaniemi process. Home of the Arctic Centre and the University of Lapland (and Santa Claus, as I would later find out).
I was supposed to stay for four months. But one day early in my exchange I walked into Outi Snellman’s office, and she asked if I would be interested in helping her out with a little project that she was working on – the University of the Arctic. Twenty years later, I’m still here and still working with Outi on that little project.
Finland and Canada have been instrumental in making UArctic a reality, and creating new education opportunities for students across the Circumpolar North. Our earliest programs like the Circumpolar Studies curriculum and the north2north student exchange have strong Finnish-Canadian DNA in their core. That cooperation continues today, with strong participation by higher education institutions and political support in both countries.
Like the Arctic Council, where the idea for an Arctic university was first proposed, UArctic has been instrumental in building the circumpolar world that we know today. The best parts of our current Arctic cooperation reflect shared values that I recognize from both my home nation of Canada and my adopted nation of Finland: respect for the environment and sustainability, a key role for indigenous peoples, building dialogue and reaching decisions through consensus, and maintaining peace and stability. I am happy and proud to have been able to play a part by not just studying Arctic cooperation but actively shaping it.
This article was first published in “Canada – Finland. Celebrating 2017”, a commemorative book celebrating Finland’s 100 years of independence and Canada’s 150 years as a nation. (Publisher: Finnish-Canadian Society and Embassy of Canada to Finland)
Published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2017