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Young Leaders Lend Their Voices on Culture, Climate Change

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states.

James Chilcote, Gwich’in Athabascan and a student at University of Alaska Fairbanks, worked with Alaska Youth for Environmental Action and the Alaska Wilderness League, and wants to keep the porcupine caribou safe from environmental harm.

Haley Fischer, Inupiat, is an accomplished Eskimo dancer, competes in the Native Youth Olympics, interned at Ukpea?vik Iñupiat Corporation, and participated in the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leadership Congress.

Byron Nicholai is a noted Yup’ik drummer and singer with a YouTube channel and more than 18,000 Facebook followers. He shared his language and music in May at an Arctic Council reception at the U.S. State Department; seated near him on stage were Secretary of State John Kerry and Adm. Robert Papp, U.S. special representative to the Arctic.

Chilcote, Fischer and Nicholai are among those selected for the U.S. Arctic Youth Ambassadors program, created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. State Department and Alaska Geographic. The ambassadors will work to increase outreach and environmental education during the U.S.’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015-17.

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. The council’s members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. Permanent Participants include the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council.

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U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited with Chilcote, Fischer and Nicholai on August 30 at the opening of the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic. “[They] are the next generation of conservation and community leaders – young Arctic stewards of their cultures, and our lands and resources, who we must invest in now to help us take action against a changing climate,” she blogged.

“These young leaders realize there is a need to increase understanding and awareness of our rapidly changing Arctic environment, among the fastest-warming regions on earth. Their voices and solutions for how to sustain communities, cultures and the environment in a changing Arctic are the reasons why they were selected.”

The Arctic Council produces comprehensive environmental, ecological and social assessments, and served as a forum for the negotiation of two legally binding agreements among the eight Arctic states: the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, and the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic.

The council’s six working groups work to strengthen efforts to reduce emissions and other releases of pollutants; provide scientific advice to support governments as they tackle pollution and adverse effects of climate change; ensure the conservation of Arctic biodiversity and the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources; protect the Arctic environment from the threat or impact of an accidental release of pollutants or radionuclides; and advance sustainable development in the Arctic and improve the conditions of Arctic communities.

Other young Alaskans selected for the Youth Ambassadors Program: Barae Hirsch, an accomplished prep skier, reporter for the Alaska Teen Media Institute, and delegate to the Alaska Center for the Environment Civics and Conservation Summit in December; and Griffin Plush, director of the Alaska Center for the Environment, outspoken environmental advocate, and environmental policy student at University of Alaska Southeast.