Dignitaries from Finland, South Korea, China, Japan and nine regions in northern Russia - as well as Nunavut Premier Eva Ariak - signed the Whitehorse Declaration on Thursday.
The Yukon’s signatory?
“Jenny from the Yukon,” said Northern Forum executive director Priscilla Wohl as she invited “Jenny” to sign the declaration at the forum’s ninth general assembly at the High Country Inn.
To be exact, the Yukon’s rep was Jennifer Trapnell, intergovernmental relations officer for the Executive Council Office.
But her low-key moniker, “Jenny from the Yukon,” was used repeatedly by Wohl, who was mediating the forum’s closing session.
Her title didn’t quite jive with the premiers, governors and chairs of Russian republics sitting around the table.
Premier Dennis Fentie should have been the proper host under protocol, but left Trapnell to explain his absence.
“I can say the premier was very ... we hosted this meeting here and ... I can’t say very much because I’m not in a position to do so,” said Trapnell.
“The premier was travelling this morning on business so he was not able to be here,” she said later.
The Yukon and Nunavut became the forum’s new co-chairs at this week’s meeting.
Fentie and Ariak decided Ariak would formally accept the chairmanship on behalf of both territories in a discussion Wednesday night, said Trapnell.
Ariak then grabbed the microphone to expand on Fentie’s absence.
“Premier Fentie is on his way to my community to have a meeting with me and with the other premier from Northwest Territories,” said Ariak.
Nunavut is hosting the premiers for a discussion of pan-northern issues for two days.
But those talks start on Friday, the day after the Northern Forum’s closing, according to a Yukon government news release.
“That’s why Premier Fentie is not here,” said Ariak, citing his flight to Iqaluit.
But Ariak was still there.
“He had to catch the early flight and I have to go to the airport as we speak to meet with Premier Fentie,” she added.
Fentie had been “very active” in the forum’s two previous days, meeting with delegates and offering his support, said Wohl.
“The fact that he is not here for this last morning because of a plane schedule is just a coincidence,” she said.
The Whitehorse declaration included commitments by the two dozen governments to work together on climate change and strengthen small businesses.
“Specifics will be found in a copy (of the declaration), which we will have in a little while,” said Wohl.
A secretary with the forum took reporters’ e-mail addresses so that the declaration could be sent electronically.
The declaration was not sent by press time.
The forum was created in 1992, just after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the creation of semi-autonomous republics in northern Russia, which were well represented at this year’s forum.
“The organization has moved from one which they opened the doors for co-operation, international trade and exchange to a body that provides very concrete and measurable products and services to the regions,” said Wohl.
It’s a networking conference for underrepresented regions hugging the Arctic Circle that has created many spin-off partnerships over the years.
Teams of hydrologists have travelled from North America to Russia to work on anti-flooding techniques, said Natalie Novik, the forum’s project manager.
Doctors have also set up shop in Siberia to teach medicine, she said.
At a forum meeting four years ago, Yukon youth discusses the problem of alcohol and drugs with young people from Siberia and Alaska.
“That has had a lot of impact on the youth in Yukon because for the first time, they heard from people from villages in Alaska and Russia all saying the same thing,” said Novik.
The forum allows a regional voice to lobby larger international bodies such as the United Nations and other region-based organizations.
But the governments are all keenly aware that they lack impact on the international stage.
Small populations, limited investment capital, little infrastructure, and not much power within their own national governments are all cited as similarities among the participants, says the forum’s website.
But they also share resource-extraction-based industries, a high percentage of indigenous populations and delicate ecosystems, says the website.
“I felt that the issues of the forum are very similar to Nunavut’s,” said Ariak, whose territory joined the forum this year.
Contact James Munson at