COMMENTARY: We need action across the Arctic community

Amund Sjølie Sveen

The Arctic should no longer accept being seen as disconnected small places at the edge of the world. As Whitehorse is hosting the international Arctic Arts Summit June 27 to 29, we need to celebrate both the arts and the Pan-Arctic community. Building border-crossing strength is a task we need to take seriously.

The Arctic is divided by borders. The nation states of the circumpolar north is slicing the Arctic like a pie. The capitols are always in the south. Communication, institutions and mental maps are organized north-south. People in Canada relate to Ottawa, people in Alaska look to Washington and people in Russia listen to Moscow. For the most part of human history however, things has been different.

A thousand years ago, sailers traveled across the North from Norway to Iceland to Greenland to Canada. Alaska belonged to Russia just a few years back, Sápmi – the land of the indigenous Sami people – covers the border areas between Norway, Finland and Sweden, fishermen from the North of Norway traveled unrestricted into Northern Russia not many years ago, and the language of Kalaallit Nunaat/Greenland has common origin with languages in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. The list could be made longer. People used to relate east-west and travel across. The Arctic is connected.

But today, Finland celebrates the 6th of December, Iceland parades on June 17, Norway marks May 17 and the people of Canada wave their flags on the 1st of July. Rarely do the people of the Arctic join forces across national borders.

The most important governmental structure for Arctic cooperation, the Arctic Council, is now out of function due to the war in Ukraine. Russia is not invited to the Arctic Arts Summit in Whitehorse even if it covers half of the circumpolar North. In times like these, the arts need to show the way.

More than ever do we need to celebrate Arctic collaboration. We need to cheer for what we have in common; midnight sun, snowmobiles, vulnerable climate, the fight against colonial powers and capitols in the south, bad roads, great skiing, saunas and a mind-blowing nature.

We need a designated day to celebrate the Arctic inhabitant, the Arctic competence, the Arctic culture, humor and climate. A day for the Arctic history and the Arctic present, the Arctic diversity and the Arctic community. A day with the ambition to be an international day, a day for the whole circumpolar area, a Pan-Arctic day.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a “Polar Day” is a day with 24 hours sunshine. The northernmost day must therefore be June 21. This is also both the national day of Kalaallit Nunaat / Greenland (they chose the lightest day as their own in the 70s when gaining increased self rule) and the National Indigenous Day in Canada. Besides, June 21 is also the day of the Northern Assembly; that was the date of the first ever assembly meeting. And of course, eternal light is no disadvantage when there is time for a party.

There are simply too many coincidences for us to ignore them; the universe, the Goddess and nature is speaking to us, there is no alternative: The true north needs its own day, and the day has chosen us, June 21.

This is not a day for governments of the south. This is not a day for colonial flag-planting, resource excavation or decisions from the outside. This is a day for the people of the North.

Let the idea sink in, and use the day for whatever you like. Let a thousand flowers bloom. You can wave whatever northern flag you wish; Alaska’s great bear, Nunavut’s inuksuk, the Sami circle-flag, Greenland’s eternal light and eternal night, the Reindeerlion of the Northern Assembly – or the Pride flag? Or just skip flagging and have a barbecue, make a parade, say a prayer or just contemplate the joy, connections and community of the north.

We need transboundary activity. We need action across. We need Arctic community, Arctic identity and Arctic pride. Let us make sure that Arctic Arts Summit is a step on the way. And remember; the true north is not represented by a basketball team in Toronto. We are the North, and the North is within us.

Congratulations with the Pan-Arctic Day June 21!

Amund Sjølie Sveen is an artist of NORDTING/The Northern Assembly visiting Whitehorse for the Arctic Arts Summit from June 27 to 29.