Fulbright Arctic Initiative Promotes Community-based Policy Solutions to Shared Arctic Challenges

Group of people standing outside building holding posters

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative (FAI), Fulbright’s international, multi-disciplinary collaboration of scholars on Arctic Issues, concluded its third cohort with a series of events in Washington, D.C. from April 25-28th, 2023.

During “Fulbright Arctic Week” nineteen scholars from the eight Arctic nations engaged policymakers and the public with issues related to creating a secure and sustainable Arctic. This capped two years of research in the areas of Arctic security, infrastructure, and health.

This group, which is the third FAI cohort since the program’s launch in 2015, was led by two scholars: Dr. Greg Poelzer of the University of Saskatchewan and Dr. Elizabeth Rink of Montana State University. Dr. Poelzer and Dr. Rink, who were alumni of the first two FAI cohorts, provided intellectual leadership and continuity with the previous collaborations.

Tuesday, April 25 – U.S. Government Briefings and Public Poster Exhibition at the Smithsonian

On their first day in Washington, Arctic Initiative Scholars met with government representatives from the U.S. Department of State and other U.S. federal agencies with stakes in Arctic policy. Scholars shared highlights from their research findings and were able to respond to questions about its implications for U.S. government policy moving forward.

Following their government meetings, the scholars presented their individual research to members of the public, current and former Fulbright Students and Scholars, and Smithsonian Arctic Scientists with a formal poster exhibition hosted by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Fulbright Arctic Initiative took over the museum’s popular Sant Ocean Hall, providing a dynamic and educational living exhibition under the approving gaze of the Smithsonian’s life-size model of the right whale Phoenix.

Fulbright Arctic Week coincided with meetings of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region (SCPAR), which allowed the scholars to meet with representatives from other Arctic Council nations at a reception hosted by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Denmark. A welcome was provided by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

View Fulbright Arctic Scholar's posters

Wednesday, April 26 – Panel Presentations by Fulbright Scholars and Officials from Arctic Nations, Hosted by the Embassy of Norway

On Wednesday, the Royal Norwegian Embassy hosted an event titled “Cooperation in a Changing Arctic,” featuring the FAI scholars as well as national leaders in Arctic policy.  Norway assumes the chair of the Arctic Council this year, and had just announced their priorities of promoting stability and constructive cooperation in the Arctic. The event was introduced with remarks by Norwegian Ambassador Anniken Krutnes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programs Ethan Rosenzweig, and FAI’s Co-lead Scholar Dr. Greg Poelzer.

The first of two panels highlighted the work of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars from Norway as well as U.S. scholars who had pursued their research exchange visits in Norway. The second panel featured leaders in Arctic policy including Ambassador Krutnes, Senator Murkowski, Department of Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary Iris Ferguson, Ambassador David Balton, and Chair of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region Ms. Aaja Chemnitz. The panel was moderated by Dr. Mike Sfraga, Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commissions and U.S. Ambassador Designate for the Arctic Region, who served as one of the co-lead scholars for the first two rounds of FAI.

Addressing the scholars, Dr. Sfraga said: “When I look at [you] and the work that [you] are doing, I see tomorrow; I see a bright future in the Arctic. The work that you do is important…. That work flows to these discussions and informs what officials and policymakers say on this stage, discussions in the North, and the ones who are involved in the conversation outside of the Arctic.”

Thursday, April 26 – Presentation of Policy Recommendations, Hosted by the Wilson Center

Thursday marked the culmination of the scholars’ week in Washington as they presented their policy recommendations at the Wilson Center to a live audience and through a simulcast to the rest of the world. The event, titled “Interdisciplinary Scholars and Policy: Science Diplomacy in the Arctic,” was hosted by the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, and introduced by Dr. Sfraga.

Polar Institute director Dr. Rebecca Pincus welcomed the group and outlined the challenges that they are addressing. Dr. Pincus was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Iceland in 2015, conducting research on Arctic security, and has served on the faculty at the U.S. Naval War College and as Arctic and Climate Strategy Advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy.

The presentations followed the primary areas of policy focus for the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

The first research group, focused on Arctic security and community engagement, comprised Dr. Susan Crate, Dr. Kristopher Thornburg, Lena Popova, Peter Wilhelm Linde, Dr. Rauna Kuokkanen, Dr. Silja Omarsdóttir and Dr. Andreas Østhagen. In their presentation, they emphasized the need to include all relevant forms of security—including food, environmental, energy, gender, health, economic, and cultural—and provided guidelines for policymakers to engage with Arctic communities when developing security policy.

The second research group, focused on Arctic infrastructure in a changing environment, comprised Jaime DeSimone, Chris Clarke McQueen, Dr. Andrea Kraj, Dr. Lill Bjørst, Dr. Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir, and Dr. Anna Krook Riekkola. This research group highlighted the need to address three forms of infrastructure: energy, policy, and knowledge infrastructures. Their recommendations centered on the needs for sustainable energy solutions to support community development, for the development of a robust infrastructure policy framework for a just and green transition, and for governments to empower local communities with the tools and investment necessary for them to carry out sustainable local development.

The third research group, focused on the community dimensions of health in the Arctic, comprised Dr. Bonita Beatty, Dr. Jessica Graybill, Dr. Elena Grigorieva, Dr. Ketil Lenert Hansen, Dr. Rainer Lohmann, and Dr. Anu-Sisko Soikkeli. They presented a series of short- and long-term policy recommendations to increase the health and wellbeing of culturally, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse groups across the Arctic.

Download the policy brief, detailing the findings and recommendations of each research group.

The policy presentation was followed by a panel specifically highlighting the work of the FAI Scholars from indigenous communities across the Arctic, including two Sami scholars, one from the Republic of Sakha, a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, and one from the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. The panel focused on ways to include indigenous leadership, knowledge, and priorities as policies are implemented in the region.

The Legacy of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative III

The final day of Arctic week served as an opportunity for the scholars who took part in the third Fulbright Arctic Initiative to reflect on their research and the connections that they made through the program and plan for future collaborations and opportunities to advance research in the Arctic.

Over the past eight years, the 54 scholars who have participated in the Fulbright Arctic Initiative have developed lasting ties with colleagues in their home and host institutions and with the communities in which they conducted their research.

Co-lead Scholar Dr. Poelzer noted that the “Fulbright Arctic Initiative, as part of the family of the Fulbright program, emphasizes both scholarship and cultural diplomacy,” and that the scholars who “have journeyed on this program represent the very best of the scholars and practitioners who have been tackling some of the most urgent challenges in the Arctic region.”

Dr. Rink thanked the many people and organizations who have contributed to the initiative’s success, including Fulbright Commissions in the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as Fulbright Canada and Fulbright Iceland, who hosted the group of scholars for in-person meetings. She commented that “those of you that live and work in the Arctic and are passionately committed to the people and the places of the Arctic know that partnerships and relationships are the foundation of everything we do.”

About the Fulbright Arctic Initiative

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative is an international, multi-disciplinary collaboration on Arctic research. Launched in 2015, the Fulbright Arctic Initiative supports international scientific cooperation on Arctic issues and increases mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. As Arctic nations continue to take concrete steps to work together and address public policy research questions relevant to their shared challenges and opportunities, the Fulbright Arctic Initiative offers a collaborative model for scholarly exchange. The nineteen scholars who participated in the most recent exchange represent the eight countries that make up the Arctic Council: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative is part of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, which is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program. Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 400,000 participants from more than 160 countries with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. The Fulbright Arctic Initiative forges lasting connections among the Arctic scholars and their nations as they work together toward common goals.

The third Fulbright Arctic Initiative received funding from the U.S. government and partner governments, including the governments of Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, and Iceland.

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