From April 2015 to May 2017 the United States chaired the Arctic Council. Here in Alaska, this offered more than the chance to make headway on Arctic policy – it presented the opportunity for Alaskans to learn more about their role within the Arctic. The Alaska Arctic Council Host Committee, established by Governor Walker at the beginning of the chairmanship, was designed to do just that: to help create opportunities for Alaskans to learn more about the Arctic Council. Initial polling indicated that there was significant work to be done before the end of the U.S. Chairmanship in order to provide real opportunities for Alaskans to connect with Arctic issues. Core needs identified through polling by Alaska Survey Research in 2016 include:
- Continued outreach to Alaskans to educate about the Arctic Council
- Developing more opportunities to for Alaskans connect with Arctic issues
- Creating programs designed to connect with communities in creative and meaningful ways
But after two years of ministerial meetings, community-oriented events, and Arctic-focused forums, do Alaskans understand the Arctic Council any better?
In the final year of the U.S. Chairmanship, the Host Committee pushed harder than ever to achieve these goals. The first North x North festival was held in Anchorage, an event that focused on highlighting Alaskan entrepreneurship, creativity, and community. Further, a “Week of the Arctic” was established to focus more deeply the intersection of research, policy, and business while still sharing the “reality of lives and livelihoods in Alaska.” These events – and the media, publicity, and novelty that surrounded both them and the Chairmanship – made some progress in awareness of the Arctic Council. Specifically, a 2017 poll analogous to the one conducted in 2016 demonstrated:
- Nearly 3% more Alaskans have participated in an Arctic event related to business, policy, research, or international cooperation than had a year previously. This is equal to an additional 20,000 participants, or roughly 2/3 the population of Fairbanks.
- In every region of the state, participation in Arctic-related events increased anywhere between 1.5% and 4%.
- In Fairbanks, nearly one in every two residents had heard of the Arctic Council – an increase of over 20% from 2016.
- In 2017, over 60% of Alaskans recall hearing about the Arctic Council in the media, a statewide increase of 5%.
Though these numbers are promising, one statistic from the 2017 polling stands out: 67% of Alaskans still do not know what the Arctic Council is. This indicates that, despite the introduction of North x North, “Week of the Arctic,” and international conferences that attracted thousands of attendees to Anchorage and Fairbanks, more extensive efforts are necessary for truly comprehensive public education with regard to the Arctic.
These statistics are just the beginning – or rather, the tip of the iceberg – when it comes to engaging and educating Alaskans about the Arctic Council. As with any statewide education effort, this is not an effort that can be completed within a year. It will continue to take directed objectives from organizations that work with Arctic issues; it will require research-informed projects that reach out to new audiences; and, last but not least, it will demand the creation of opportunities that directly engage Alaskans and their communities with the Arctic Council’s agenda.
The Institute of the North was the Secretariat for the Alaska Arctic Council Host Committee. The initial poll in 2016 reached 745 Alaskans – 40% in Anchorage, 25% in Southcentral, 13% in Fairbanks, 10% in Southeast and 10% in rural communities. The follow-up poll in 2017 reached 750 Alaskans in similar proportions across the state.