Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending a summer school in Sisimiut, Greenland. With its theme of sustainable development in Arctic societies, the school’s choice of location was particularly apt: the challenges and opportunities facing communities in northwest Greenland are emblematic of those faced across the region. Impacts of climate change, discussions of an extractive industry-based future, the tension between modern and traditional lifestyles and the logistical challenge of living in the remote north are all issues keenly felt in towns like Sisimiut. As such the Arctic Technology Centre proved an ideal setting for what was an engaging four days that attempted to tackle the conceptual behemoth that is ‘sustainable development’ and what this actually entails for Arctic communities.
Organised by a collection of Arctic institutions (CIRCLA, University of the Arctic and Ilisimatusarfik), the school brought together fourteen young researchers in the social sciences – predominantly PhD, with some MA – from across the Circumpolar North. Notably every Arctic nation was represented. The format was familiar to those who have attended similar courses before: a mixture of lectures from academics, presentations of students’ current research and themed discussion sessions. The eclectic mixture of students and lecturers’ national and academic backgrounds offered the foundation for contrasting experiences and research interests. As such, a potpourri of topics was covered each in their own way touching upon facets of the Arctic sustainability debate. The wide-ranging list of topics included Greenlandic e-democracy, Faroese fisheries management, Arctic geopolitics, indigenous mental health in Alaska, community greenhouses in the Canadian North and anthropology of Russian communities in Svalbard to name just a few. Tying these strands together into a coherent holism encouraged by the concept of ‘sustainable development’ is no easy task; it does however lend itself to thought-provoking and illuminating discussion, of which there was no shortage throughout the four days.
Away from the classroom, the participants got to experience some of the town, one of Greenland’s largest. Greenland towns often conjure up images of small, brightly-coloured houses hugging the fjordic coastline to the backdrop of towering snow-covered mountains. This is certainly true of Sisimiut in the springtime. An organised boat-ride to the surrounding waters served as a reminder of how truly remote Greenlandic settlements are; an Arctic wilderness is merely a few minutes boat journey away. Under the blue skies of a pleasant spring evening, it was hard not to be in awe of the raw beauty of northwest Greenland’s coast. Indeed, its peaceful, pristine splendour offered a welcome contrast from the cerebral exertion of the lecture room!