Fólk í norðurslóðarmálum

The mayor of Akureyri prominent in Arctic affairs

Ásthildur Sturludóttir - Akureyri Municipality

The Arctic Mayors' Forum was established in the autumn of 2019 in Akureyri, Iceland. Ásthildur Sturludóttir, the mayor of Akureyri, serves as the first chairperson of the organization, with the expectation that Norwegians will take over the presidency next spring.

Shared challenges in spite of different customs and cultures

The Arctic Mayors' Forum promotes active collaboration among mayors and municipal leaders across the expansive Arctic region, ranging from Alaska and Canada in the west to Russia in the east. "The purpose is for us, the mayors, to cooperate on common issues, priorities, and challenges," says Ásthildur. "One of our main goals is to become official observers within the Arctic Council, which would allow us to address various important issues there, such as gender equality and connectivity in remote areas. I believe it is crucial to discuss the concerns of nations, regions, and people living in the Arctic, especially in light of climate change, population shifts, and hazards. This goes beyond national security, defence, or military matters. It also pertains to life-threatening situations and the changes that global warming has brought and will continue to bring upon us with increasing intensity in the coming years and decades," says Ásthildur.

Being the chairperson of the forum presents a unique challenge due to the diverse cultures and traditions of the people in the Arctic. "Naturally, each country has its own cultural background and practices. Dealing with Russians and Americans, for example, is different from interacting with Scandinavians. Moreover, there is frequent turnover among mayors. They come and go like football coaches, so there is not much continuity in the population or at least hasn't been," explains Ásthildur.

"Limited services and gender inequality common issues."

In many parts of the Arctic, isolated communities face transportation challenges and limited services. In Iceland, there are towns in peripheral areas that share similarities with indigenous settlements in Norway and Alaska. Ásthildur points out that these regions often lack various services, including medical care. There is also a significant brain drain, with highly educated individuals leaving these communities due to the lack of suitable employment opportunities. Women, who are generally more educated than men, often try to seek education that fits into the local society. Ásthildur has personally experienced this while living in the Westfjords, where her friends were highly educated and constantly pursuing further education, even while on maternity leave. "But men often have higher wages, as these are fishing communities and extremely male-dominated. It's similar to the reality faced by the Inuit people. When we discuss these issues in these regions, everyone understands the challenges," says Ásthildur.

Akureyri as Iceland's Arctic Hub

Regarding the significance of Akureyri as Iceland's Arctic Hub, Ásthildur says, "We are the capital of rural areas. Here, we have a university, a large hospital, excellent healthcare services, a perfect conference and cultural center, just to name a few. It is essential that we serve as the hub for this field because the knowledge lies here, and our connections to rural issues are both greater and stronger than in Reykjavík." Ásthildur also highlights many advantages of Akureyri. "We have incredible quality of life, excellent educational opportunities for children, teenagers, and adults, excellent services for families, beautiful surroundings, recreational activities available both in summer and winter, and of course, the weather, which I personally love. This is a city with all the services, but it's not a metropolis, and you don't have to spend hours commuting between places," she adds.

Ásthildur Sturludóttir

"The purpose is for us, the mayors, to cooperate on common issues, priorities, and challenges."