News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Arctic Initiative Hosts Indigenous Youth for Leadership Workshop

In January, two dozen Indigenous youth leaders from across the circumpolar North visited the Harvard Kennedy School. Hailing from Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Greenland, and Alaska, the youth leaders came to Cambridge as part of the International Workshop on Indigenous Youth Leadership for the Changing Arctic, designed by the Belfer Center’s Arctic Initiative in collaboration with the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICRH), UArctic EALAT Institute, World Reindeer Herders (WRH), and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

The Indigenous youth leaders joined Harvard Kennedy School students for the second half of the January-term course IGA-67M: “Policy and Social Innovation for the Changing Arctic.” The intensive course, taught by Halla Hrund Logadóttir, Arctic Initiative Co-Founder and Director-General of Iceland’s National Energy Authority, is designed to encourage students to engage with facets of the climate crisis in a solutions-oriented capacity, inviting students to develop their own policy and social innovations to address issues in a region warming four times faster than the rest of the world. For the Indigenous youth leaders, this was not an abstract exercise: many shared their direct experiences with the changing Arctic climate and its impacts on their daily lives, providing personal perspectives and firsthand knowledge that grounded and enriched the conversation in the classroom. 

During the Indigenous Youth Leadership Workshop hosted by the Belfer Center's Arctic Initiative, Na'ni'eezh Peter advocated for the creation of a youth council to strengthen intergenerational knowledge transfer in her Alaskan hometown.

Throughout the week, the visiting youth leaders and HKS students learned about the various dynamics which are transforming the Arctic, as well as the process of using social innovation to address the wide-ranging consequences of this transformation. For the visiting youth leaders, it was an opportunity to strengthen their understanding of how the challenges facing their communities relate to broader regional and global challenges. For Kennedy School students, the visiting youth leaders provided invaluable insight into how climate change is impacting the people of the North. Classroom discussions and simulations on adaptation and resilience were complemented with practical training in persuasive communication and op-ed writing, as well as one-on-one idea development meetings with mentors. After hours, the visiting youth leaders had opportunities to network and socialize with their HKS peers, both the students enrolled in the Arctic course and those enrolled in DEV-501M: “Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation Building I.”

Visiting youth leader Xia Torrika discussed the impacts of logging on reindeer herding in her hometown in Finland.

The course and workshop culminated in the 8th Arctic Innovation Lab, in which each of the 43 participants shared their solution for addressing a specific Arctic challenge. Following opening remarks by Sara Olsvig, Member of Greenland’s Human Rights Council and president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, students had just two minutes each to pitch their idea. A panel of Arctic experts, including Jennifer Spence, Arctic Initiative Senior Fellow; Svein Disch Mathiesen, Head of the UArctic Institute for Circumpolar Reindeer Husbandry; Anders Oskal, Secretary General of WRH, Cristine Russell, Senior Fellow with the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program; and Alice Rogoff, Arctic Initiative Board Member and Publisher of ArcticToday, selected the pitches they felt presented a clear avenue to enact change. The winning pitches included “Changing Systems in Sweden” by Sara-Elvira Kuhmunen (Jokkmokk, Sweden), “The Role of Asian Observer States in Restoring the Arctic Council” by Calvin Heng (HKS), “The Oppression in Greenland’s Education System” by Linda Kristiansen (Nuuk, Greenland), “Certification System for a Sustainable Tourism Industry” by Christine Zhao (HKS), and “Entrepreneur Incubators in the Arctic” by Hyder Zahid (HKS). For her pitch, “Rich Reindeer,” Inga Julie Sara (Karasjok, Norway) won the popular vote. 

After the end of the course, the Indigenous youth leaders then continued to the Tufts Fletcher School for further training in negotiation. The integration of the workshop and the Arctic course not only provided a space for sharing knowledge and experience regarding the impacts of climate change, but it facilitated the growth of new relationships and opportunities for future partnerships. This workshop was a sequel to one held in Arendal, Norway, in August 2022, both part of an ongoing effort by the organizers to empower Indigenous youth to be leaders in their communities as they address the climate crisis.

“Even though we might think that Alaska is really far from northern Finland, we have the same kind of problems and same understanding about how to use our land and how to deal with climate change,” said participant Xia Torrika (Áŋŋel, Finland). “It was really heartwarming to get to know these people and talk about the issues and find the solutions together.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Varvares, Tessa and Elizabeth Hanlon. “Arctic Initiative Hosts Indigenous Youth for Leadership Workshop.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, February 7, 2023.

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