Young leaders from Alaska, Canada and Greenland stress need for cultural preservation and climate adaptation

Four young adults sit in chairs on stage.
Cordelia Kellie, Nivi Rosing, Eben Hopson and Qilak Kaludjak participate in a panel on Contemporary Arctic Policy on Thursday in Anchorage. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Cordelia Kellie, special assistant for rural affairs to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, told a crowd in downtown Anchorage Thursday about a recent trip to Kotzebue. She said she heard the need for port development to have easier access to goods in the Northwest Arctic region. 

“How are we also investing in housing so that people can be in communities? Because I think that is one issue that affects all of our Arctic communities,” she said. “Infrastructure, cost of living and housing would be priorities for making sure people can stay on our traditional homelands.”

Kellie was among four young leaders who highlighted priorities in the circumpolar north at this week’s Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage. The three-day conference drew hundreds of people from all over the globe to the Dena’ina Center to discuss Arctic policy, climate change and resource development.

Kellie’s panel included Indigenous fellows and policy advisors from Alaska, Canada and Greenland. In addition to climate adaptation and cultural preservation, the panelists stressed the need to address the root causes of outmigration from their traditional homelands.

Several also discussed knowledge transference — the passing down of traditional knowledge between generations — as a key practice to preserving Indigenous ways of life in the North. 

“One thing that I would like to see is us young people learning everything we can from our elders before they pass on, because that’s how they were taught,” said Eben Hopson, an Arctic Resilient Communities fellow from Utqiagvik. “That’s how I would like to see us learn hunting and everything else relating to the Arctic.”

Older Alaska Native leaders on another panel discussed the necessity of an energy transition away from fossil fuels. Chickaloon Village’s Chief Gary Harrison said he fears climate change could destroy the way of life he wants to pass on. 

“What are we going to leave for the future generations? If we leave a mess, how are they going to live?” said Harrison. “It’s something that I think about constantly.”

Planning for a sustainable future that balances resource development and climate change have been major themes of the Arctic Encounter conference so far. Friday is the final day of the event.

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at Read more about Kavitha here.

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