There’s still work to be done to connect Alaskans to the rest of the Arctic

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Alaska Gov. Bill Walker launched the Alaska Arctic Council Host Committee last year to provide hospitality and education during the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council. This body has worked to highlight Alaska perspectives and priorities by showcasing the state’s people and potential. The host committee has welcomed visiting delegations, informed Alaskans of Arctic Council activities and linked national and foreign decision makers to the realities, richness and responsibility of Alaska’s Arctic.

Recognizing that the end of the U.S. Chairmanship comes next May, the host committee leveraged an existing statewide poll, conducted by Alaska Survey Research, to ask four questions of Alaskans:

1. Have you heard of an organization called the Arctic Council?

2. Which country is the current chair?

3. Have you seen, heard or read any media coverage about the Arctic Council in the last year?

4. In the last 12 months, have you participated in any events related to the Arctic that dealt with issues like international cooperation, business, policy or research?

The results indicate that there is still work to do between now and next May, and in particular a real need to continue outreach to Alaskans about the Arctic Council, but also—perhaps more importantly—to provide more opportunities for Alaskans to connect with Arctic issues. The polling data is clear:

-66 percent of Alaskans haven’t heard of the Arctic Council.

-Of those who had heard of the Arctic Council, only 34 percent correctly identified the United States as the current chair.

-55 percent of those who had heard about the Arctic Council had seen, read or heard coverage in the media in the last 12 months.

-95 percent of Alaskans have not participated in an Arctic event related to international cooperation, business, policy or research.

In the last year, both Anchorage and Fairbanks have hosted large Arctic conferences with 1,000 people attending from around the world. The Arctic Council, U.S. State Department, state of Alaska, and University of Alaska have all ramped up their communication and public outreach. And yet we are a long way from connecting with Alaskans the importance of the Arctic and the role of the Arctic Council.

There is still time during the U.S. Chairmanship to increase awareness and engage Alaskans in this area. The Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials will meet next in Juneau, in March, where the host committee can commit to designing programs that connect with the community in creative and meaningful ways. In May, Alaska has its greatest opportunity to move the ball forward — the Arctic Council Ministerial in Fairbanks next spring will bring the eight foreign ministers of Arctic nations to Alaska, and hundreds of Arctic stakeholders.

The Host Committee has created a “Week of the Arctic” to coincide with the Fairbanks ministerial. Fairbanks events will be held May 8 to 11, and focus on the intersection of research, policy and business; this will be framed around an “Arctic Interchange.” In Anchorage, events are more public-focused, and the “North x North” festival will focus on innovation, and the civic, cultural and artistic community. Throughout, the message will be that Alaska is and remains an Arctic state, with important contributions to make here and around the north.

These opportunities are meant to meet people where they’re at, and convey the accessibility of Arctic issues. Alaska can come away from the U.S. Chairmanship as the standard by which U.S. states should understand the Arctic, and America’s standard bearer to other Arctic nations.

The poll reached 745 Alaskans – 40 percent in Anchorage, 25 percent in Southcentral Alaska, 13 percent in Fairbanks, 10 percent in Southeast Alaska and 10 percent in rural communities. More information about the Week of the Arctic can be found at www.akarctichost.org.

Nils Andreassen is executive director of the Institute of the North, which is serving as the secretariat for the Alaska Arctic Council Host Committee.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Arctic Now, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary (at) arcticnow.com.