Arctic Council on the Path of Vikings

04 Aug 2011

Throughout this journey we have been following the path of the Vikings -- from Iceland, to Greenland, across the Davis Strait to Vinland (now called Labrador). The Strait has been merciful these last 24 hours and we are now approaching the coast of Labrador, headed for the Torngat National Park, one of the remotest regions in Canada.

There is a gentle roll to the ship that induces a certain somnolence. But there isn’t much time for sleep. On sea days the education agenda is full and today we returned to some ideas we discussed in Reykjavik at the beginning of this journey.

There we met Iceland’s President, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, at his official residence, a small Danish colonial style house on the edge of the city. Fronted by an old whitewashed stone church with a terra cotta roof, the house sits on the ruins of a 10th Century Viking church. We crammed into a reception room, drinking coke out of crystal wine glasses. The walls were lined with Icelandic art and the sun poured in through the windows. President Grimsson was immaculate in a well cut, dark suit and tie. We were in our finest expedition wear -- blue SOI t-shirts, jeans, name tags and track shoes.

The President’s words touched many of the students. He was thoughtful, clear and concise and made a strong case for both the importance of the Arctic Council, of which Iceland is an active member, and why Arctic climate change matters to the rest of the world. He called the Arctic a “modern laboratory” for solving problems and pointed the peaceful engagement between states and Indigenous through the Arctic Council as a positive example in a troubled world.

“Become active in the debate and bring the knowledge you learn here back to your own community in any way you can,” he said.

We’re all used to politicians making pretty speeches, and teenagers have a radar for insincere adults that any parent can appreciate. But President Grimsson connected with these young people. The lined up to talk to him and have their pictures taken. The consensus was they had been talked to, not at. The students continue to refer to that meeting as one of the highlights of the trip so far.

And the President’s words made our job a little easier today, on the steel-grey sea half-way between Greenland and Labrador. He provided an excellent segue into a discussion about the role of the Arctic Council and the organization of a “mock Arctic Council” exercise. The goal is to have the students debate real issues and, if possible, develop a statement that could be presented to the Arctic Council at some future date. The students have lots of ideas and have organized themselves into country and Indigenous Peoples’ delegations. We will hold the debate later, somewhere along the remote Labrador coast.


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