Well-being, human rights and cultural heritage tend to score low on the spectrum of priorities vis-à-vis the horn of plenty which has resulted in a scramble for natural resources or in some cases a race between states. These changes have consequences all over the world, and as the changes happening in the Arctic serve as a warning sign for the rest of the world, it’s pressing to think of the local residents’ rights in all this – in order to lead by example.
One of the challenges facing the Arctic Council is to preserve the unity and harmony between the member states, to ensure full participation by all eight Arctic states in all decisions. It’s going to be challenging to develop collaboration with the growing number of observers, which is a clear indication of how important the Arctic has become in international eyes.
One might ask why we, who belong to one of the wealthiest nations of the world, live with constant periodic overthrowing of the economy with asset prices collapsing, inflation soaring through the roof and the currency collapsing. Yet, we are considered to be in top positions in comparison with other countries in terms of prosperity, happiness, equality and social security. We have diverse employment opportunities and strong natural resources. We have health care, strong educational system and ambitious cultural standing. The Icelandic population is over 300,000, and a little over 200,000 live in or near the capital area. It is a huge challenge for the rural areas in Iceland to keep the traditional practices alive. The rural communities that have depended primarily on fishing and agriculture have to adapt to changing sceneries like so many other in the Arctic, which has resulted in too many rural communities being abandoned.
The Arctic Council is the most important consultative forum on all Arctic issues, and it has to be open to all. As the island's first inhabitants, Icelanders are in a way also ‘indigenous’, and that to me is worth a whole lot. It makes us strong and resilient. It makes us stand up for ourselves and gives us courage when we need it the most. It makes us better at adapting to changing landscapes and lives. When push comes to shove we stand together – and now more than ever we need to do just that.
Originally published in UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2016 Special Issue: Arctic Council at 20