Two years later in Akureyri, the Arctic Mayors’ Forum (AMF) was formally established with the mission to ensure the participation of mayors and elected community leaders to safeguard the values, goals, and interests of those who live in the Arctic.

We achieve our mission by providing an open and collaborative platform for our members, including Indigenous leaders from around the Arctic. By providing an inclusive forum for debate and collaboration, we seek to move talk into action with relevant stakeholders including the EU, regional bodies, NGOs, think tanks, and academia including the University of the Arctic. Our common goals of sustainable economic development, strengthening the resilience of Arctic communities, and ensuring that young people are attracted to living and working in the North cannot be achieved by working in silos.

Local leaders are the first point of contact for residents regardless of age. This is no less true for young people born in the Arctic, or for those who choose to move to the Arctic to study, work or play. We all agree that Arctic youth need more input into the political decisions that affect their everyday lives. AMF provides a platform and many different opportunities for meaningful youth engagement.

On the margins of the Arctic Circle Assembly in October 2022, the first Arctic Policy Hackathon, co-organized by the Arctic Mayors’ Forum, the Gordon Foundation, and the Canadian International Arctic Center, brought emerging leaders from across the region to develop policy recommendations on the topic of Arctic food sovereignty. Fourteen young Arctic leaders – including two from AMF member cities, Laura Suorsa from Oulu and Daniel Smirat from Luleå – developed an impactful set of recommendations on food sovereignty which were presented at the Arctic Circle Assembly session Food Sovereignty: Solutions in the Arctic. Avaaraq Olsen, Mayor of Sermersooq, Greenland and AMF member, participated in the presentation of the recommendations. Participants from the Hackathon have gone on to promote the recommendations through radio, social media, and meetings with officials.

Also during the Arctic Circle Assembly 2022, AMF organized the session Youth in the Arctic – Creating Attractive Living Conditions. This session gathered AMF mayors and young people to discuss how Arctic municipalities can remain competitive through attractive living conditions as a part of local strategies to prevent youth emigration and brain drain. The session was well attended with active audience participation. Laura Suorsa (Oulu), Daniel Smirat (Luleå), and Patricia Johnson-Castle (Newfoundland and Labrador) provided opening remarks. They were followed by a conversation with Mayors Carina Sammeli (Luleå), Ulla-Kirsikka Vainio (Rovaniemi), Ásthildur Sturludóttir (Akureyri), Mirja Vehkaperä (Oulu), and Avaaraq Olsen (Sermersooq).

Sharing of experiences and expertise on the development and attractiveness of northern communities and youth involvement between the members of the Arctic Mayors’ Forum provides new insights and opportunities for collaboration. Indeed, it can become a motor for the development of the Arctic region.

For example, the Municipality of Luleå regularly conduct surveys (LUPP and Ipsos) to capture what young people and young adults think about their future in Luleå and what is important for them. The Municipality also organizes meetings called “Meet Luleå” where students, politicians, civil servants, and others gather around a cup of coffee to network and talk about what is happening in Luleå. Similar activities take place in other AMF municipalities in different formats.

The Arctic Mayors’ Forum remains committed to hearing the voices of our youngest residents - to give the time and space necessary to truly value the contributions of our young Arctic leaders, and to ensure that the Arctic remains a place they long to call home.

By Patti Bruns, Secretary General, Arctic Mayors’ Forum

[Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2023. Read all articles here]