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‘What a Privilege’: High-level Arctic Council Meeting to Bring Visitors, Prestige to Alaska

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Fairbanks and Anchorage will both get a big economic boost in May during a series of events to be held in conjunction with a major meeting of top diplomats from the eight Arctic Council member nations. The Week of the Arctic will also enable the peoples of those nations to share their cultures.

Organizers say the Fairbanks ministerial and other events to be held as part of the Week of the Arctic will attract about a thousand participants and generate about a million dollars in revenue.

“So, that’s direct spending into the community. That doesn’t include any multipliers or anything like that,” says Deb Hickok, president and CEO of Explore Fairbanks, the local convention- and tourism-promotion agency.

Hickok says organizers are working on the many arrangements required for Week of the Arctic, to be held May 8 through 14 in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. And she says in addition to revenue, the ministerial also will bring a measure of prestige to Fairbanks, because it’s the highest-profile Arctic Council event to be held here since the organization was founded 20 years ago.

“Hopefully. we’ll build awareness as we get closer for the community to realize what a group we have here, and what a privilege it is,” Hickok said.

The ministerial is being held in Alaska because the biennial event is customarily held in a city within the nation that holds the council chairmanship. The ministerial will mark the end of the United States’s two-year chairmanship and the beginning of Finland’s term. And it’s an occasion for nations of the circumpolar north and member groups that represent indigenous peoples and other interests to share their knowledge and experience.

Credit Greg Martin/Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce
Hinzman: The Week of the Arctic "will be a good opportunity for us to examine how the Arctic is changing and how the people of the Arctic are responding to it ..."

“It’ll be a good opportunity for us to examine how the Arctic is changing and how the people of the Arctic are responding to it – learn some lessons from what they’ve done and teach them some of the things that we’ve discovered,” says Larry Hinzman, vice chancellor for research at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks who’s overseeing UAF’s support for the ministerial and related Fairbanks-area events.

“For Fairbanks, it’s just going to be a great economic boon,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of people coming in at a time when the tourist season hasn’t quite swung up yet. So, we expect to fill the hotels, and keep the taxis busy and fill the restaurants.”

Hinzman talked about the Week of the Arctic during last week’s Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce meeting. He was joined by Ann Meceda an Arctic affairs officer with the U.S. State Department. Meceda says the department has sent a 40-member advance team to prepare for the ministerial in cooperation with local organizers and the Alaska Arctic Council Host Committee.

Credit Greg Martin/Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce
Ann Meceda, U.S. State Department Arctic affairs specialist: "We’re looking forward to May."

“We’re happy to be up here and look at the events, and meet with partners,” she said. “Everyone’s been tremendously helpful in the lead-up to this. And we’re looking forward to May.”

Hinzman told the chamber audience that Week of the Arctic events will begin in Fairbanks with events leading up to the May 11th ministerial. The venue will then switch to Anchorage for three days of a different series of events, collectively called North by North, that’ll enable Council member nations and indigenous peoples organizations to share their cultures.

“The events in Fairbanks have a lot more of a scientific bent to them,” he said. “The events in Anchorage have a more arts and culture bent to them.”

Most of the events not related to the ministerial will be open to the public. More information is available online at the Alaska Arctic Council Host Committee website.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.