I am quite certain that when we celebrated the UArctic Launch almost twenty years ago to the day, nobody could have imagined that by 2021 UArctic would have grown into a strong global membership organization with over 220 members in 22 countries and nearly 70 interdisciplinary Thematic Networks and Institutes.
It is easier to look back and try to recall the past than it is to imagine the future. Nevertheless, in this issue of the Shared Voices Magazine we celebrate UArctic’s 20 years since the launch through stories about the future: visions and aspirations. What is important for the sustainable development of the Arctic? What is important for its peoples? And most importantly, what is the future like for the generations that are now in the university?
We also pay tribute to Professor Bill Heal, who passed away in early 2021. He was instrumental in the early history of UArctic – the history that led to the Launch. Bill and the numerous early founders of UArctic shared a vision, and I do not believe any of us have had reasons for regret. UArctic has been true to its promise to the governments, to the Indigenous peoples’ organizations, and to its members.
Finland’s Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko analyses the role of UArctic in her article: “UArctic has contributed in many ways to education, science, sustainability, and policy-making, and its active role in connecting researchers and policy-makers has been important. […] Another central aspect has been its ability to bring northern voices and knowledge into the larger discussion arenas. This increases not only understanding and respect towards the region, but it also contributes to the sustainability work. This immensely important outreach work is an area worth amplifying through UArctic’s cooperative network at large.” This same perspective is highlighted in the interviews of Michael Pogodaev and Evon Peter, from Sakha (Yakutia) and Alaska, both representing Arctic Indigenous peoples. As to the member organizations, the growth and breath of activities is perhaps the best indication of the need and also success of UArctic.
Finally, a few words about the cover photo. In early 2021 UArctic organized a photo competition with the theme “Arctic Polarities”, resulting in excellent submissions from around the North. The cover photo, taken by Esa Pekka Isomursu of the Reykjavík skyline, came second in the staff category. For me, this is what UArctic represents: nature, built environment, art, and the very purpose of UArctic – peace – represented by the light monument designed by Yoko Ono. This spring we were all supposed to gather in Iceland to celebrate the end of the Icelandic chairmanship of the Arctic Council and the start of the Russian one, as well as gather in science discussions in the UArctic Congress. This is not how things turned out in this COVID-19 era, but we can be amazed by this history of environmental cooperation and peace-building through governments and people and peoples of the region working together. We can imagine being there.