The Native Voice is Highlighted at this Year’s Arctic Encounter Symposium

Arctic_Seth Sivinki
SMEA Student Seth Sivinski with crowd favorite Mayor Richard Beneville of Nome, AK aboard the Icebreaker Aiviq.

The School of Marine and Environmental Affairs had a strong showing at this year’s Arctic Encounter Symposium, a yearly meeting hosted at the University of Washington’s Law School. Students and faculty were speakers, moderators, representatives of consulting firms, as well as there to just learn as much as possible from the diverse gathering. At the meeting, students were able to meet and learn from Senators, scholars, Coast Guard Admirals, Alaskan Mayors (Mayor Beneville of Nome, Alaska was a group favorite). This diverse and knowledgeable group helped put a human face on some of the issues we study in the Marine Affairs program as well as a first-hand introduction to some of the stake holders in these issues.

The stated theme of the meeting was “Acting Right in the Arctic”. Each speaker took a different spin on this but an overarching theme for all of the plenary talks was the importance of including Native voices in the debate surrounding the globalizing Arctic.

Arctic Encounter Byron Mallot
Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, giving the keynote address on January 16, 2016.

Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott made a great speech to this effect on the meeting’s second day. Mr. Mallott said that while all the talk about investment opportunities, infrastructure, fishing, and global shipping in the North we need to make what he called human opportunity a priority. He said that in his small hometown of Yakutat he could see the difference between his white father’s life and his native mother’s. Lieutenant Governor Mallott said that his father’s life was always secure.

The Lieutenant. Governor described the current moment in the North as a junction. One of those times where what you choose will affect the trajectory of the future. Given this imperative the governor called for leaders to take a hard look at the decision making process in the State. To him the dominant worldview is strongly male and white. He did not bring this up a judgement, rather as a reality check to try and set the State on a more inclusive path that would help make Alaska’s future a more inclusive one and more secure for all of its residents. This sentiment was echoed by Arctic leaders from around the Polar region.

Overall this theme of inclusion and a focus on the diverse voices in the region was pervasive throughout the talks. The symposium allowed for a productive dialogue on subjects like icebreaker policy and responsible development of rural Alaska. This diversity was also seen at the banquet dinner where Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) gave a panel discussion about partnership between their two states. Over all it was a great experience to be able to rub shoulders with the players in the Arctic field as well as learn what the future could bring to this rapidly changing region.