Interviews of UArctic Board members: Evon Peter
By Arne O. Holm, Editor in Chief, High North News
The pace at which the western world moves is at odds with the pace of nature, says Evon Peter.
“We have to be communicating across the Circumpolar North so that we can better understand the challenges we collectively face, and find solutions and understanding that can help guide us forward in a way that provides for a sustainable future for all of us.”
Evon Peter has been a Board member of UArctic since 2018, and in his final period he played an important role in the work with the new strategic plan.
“For UArctic it was really important to simply and clearly define who we are, what we do, and where we see ourselves going. And I think that overall, the strategic plan has provided that foundation, so that people who are not as familiar with UArctic can now look through a set of documents that clearly define those parameter and gain an understanding of what UArctic is”, he tells me from his office in Fairbanks, Alaska.
A More Complex Entity
Peter has used his own experience in the work, things he noticed back in 2001 when he first engaged with UArctic.
“UArctic was still in its earlier formative state. But when I became involved again a few years ago, I stepped into a much more complex entity than I had witnessed two decades ago. It took a while to wrap my mind around the pieces of what UArctic is, and how it operates.”
Besides being a Board member of UArctic, Evon Peter is also a Board member to the Gwich'in Council International, and he recently stepped down as a Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community and Native Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he now serves as a senior research scientist at the Center for Alaska Native Health Research.
Like most of us, Evon Peter’s life has changed quite a bit this past year. He is a well-known and active national and international speaker, and even a film producer. But he may have a different view of the pandemic that hit the world over a year ago.
“The first thing that came to mind is that we all needed to slow down a little bit. I honestly have felt for a long time that the pace at which the western world moves is at odds with the pace of nature. As some of our elders say, it is not a good idea to go against nature. It usually produces unhealthy results, not only on our bodies, but also in the outcome of what we produce. I think that the pandemic has provided us an opportunity to reflect on what is important and what is valuable. It certainly has slowed down research for scientists and universities. But that slowing down is okay. We have been able to re-evaluate and assess, and now we are able to recalibrate how we want to move forward and approach our next steps, and continue bringing focus on Indigenous peoples’ voices and engagement”, Peter says.
Our Voices Are Being Heard More
“Some of the interesting dynamics that have played out during the pandemic as well have highlighted an emphasis on the significant disparities in health, wealth and privilege, certainly here in North America but also in the rest of the Circumpolar North. I think it has helped to create space and help elevate Indigenous voices into platforms and spaces where our voices are being heard more and being welcomed like they never have been welcomed before.”
After working on the new strategic plan for UArctic, Evon Peter seems to think that the future for the organization is bright, and that UArctic will play an even more important role in the future.
“To provide a sustainable future for all of us is impossible to do alone. It is impossible for us to do that in silos. UArctic plays a very critical role as a neutral education institution or network of institutions in helping to provide facilitation for that communication, collaboration, cooperation and engagement. I think that is why UArctic is important.”
“In UArctic’s new strategic plan, I was pleased to see the uplifting of the importance of Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous voices, as core elements to the values and the goals that we have through UArctic. When we think about the way UArctic functions, it serves as a facilitator for the institutions; it serves as a connector for scholars, for established researchers, or their graduate or undergraduate students who are interested in learning about the most up-to-date research and academic outcomes related to the Circumpolar North; and it provides that platform for engagement, cooperation and collaboration. That is very unique, and I think it will be increasingly important as we move forward.
It also emphasizes the importance of having a dynamic impact on the North for northern people. Those are all pieces of the plan that I am really pleased with overall.”
As all the people I have talked with about the future of UArctic, Evon Peter also underlines the importance of UArctic’s global role and possibilities.
“I think that a part of the implementation plan is for UArctic to start to present itself more on a global scale. It certainly is important for us in the Circumpolar North to connect with each other and share our knowledge, understanding, our methods and approaches to work. For example, among Indigenous communities and in addressing unique challenges to remote, isolated Arctic communities, and advancing the work with Indigenous languages and knowledges. But also, a part of the implementation plan is to uplift and provide platforms for that knowledge and those voices to be shared more broadly on a global scale. The Arctic we know is a critical region to the world, and I believe that more people will begin to look to the North, to have our voices and perspective shared as they relate to what is happening elsewhere on a global scale. So yes, I very much think that in these next ten years we will see that UArctic is playing a role in helping to advance and bring forward northern voices into a global conversation.”