I’m trembling with excitement. Together with a small delegation I just handed over a message to one of the world’s top political figures. And it’s all because of you.
I don’t usually hang out in New York City, rubbing shoulders with the United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and talking to him about the Arctic. In fact I’m pretty sure until our meeting today, he had never heard of me. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me back up.
On a normal day, I’m in my home country of Sweden working to promote the issues of my people, the Saami, the Indigenous Peoples of northern Scandinavia and Russia, and one of the many Arctic Indigenous Peoples of the world. I come from a family that have lived off and with, the land of the North for generations. The land is who we are and we see its changes first-hand, changes that are becoming increasingly more familiar and concerning as global temperatures rise. The Saami are few and Sweden has little interest in our future, so sometimes my work can feel rather lonely.
Last year, I heard about a movement to Save the Arctic, a movement of people around the world that, just like me, wanted to push the Arctic leaders to listen to those affected by what is happening, to focus on sustainability and protect the high North. This movement seemed to see clearly that the longevity of the high North also meant the longevity of the whole planet. That the changes my people were seeing, were a symbol of changes everywhere. I began to feel that my people’s concerns were also the concerns of many, even those that had possibly never even been to Sápmi, our traditional lands.
When last year I got the opportunity to join an expedition to the North Pole to deliver a scroll of the then nearly 3 million names united in protecting the Arctic, to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and call on global leaders to declare it a sanctuary for the future of humanity – naturally the first thing I did was look for my favourite pair of skis.
Trekking to the North Pole in the name of a nearly three million strong global movement was amazing. But when I found out that this movement has now grown to be over six million strong, united for Arctic protection, I was left in awe. And when I talked to Ban Ki-moon about it today, I think he was too.
You see, Ban Ki-moon is just like you and me. He believes in leaving a better world for our children and grandchildren. And having been to the Arctic himself, he knows what’s at stake.
For me, the Arctic is a symbol of change and hope at a crucial time in our history. When I walked out of Ban Ki-moon’s office today, leaving him with stories of the Arctic and the millions wanting to save it, I couldn’t stop thinking of the true potential of a global movement and how powerful that potential can become when people all over the world are united behind it. But most of all I was thinking of calling my mom, who overcame so much to give me the opportunity to be in a place where I could be a voice for us all.
When skiing to the North Pole, everything in my body hurt and was freezing. The way was full of giant blocks of ice while the wind roared at minus 30 C. But the thought of your support and what we are fighting for together kept me going. You pushed me through the cold to the North Pole and you brought me here to deliver our message to Ban Ki-moon. Together, I have the feeling we are on to something big. One can only imagine where we will end up next.
Josefina Skerk is an Indigenous activist and member of the Saami parliament in Sweden – Josefina trekked to the North Pole with Greenpeace in 2013.