The Arctic is remarkable and worthy of respect
The Stefansson Arctic Institute was established in Akureyri in 1998, with Níels Einarsson, an anthropologist, appointed as its director. He has held this position ever since. The institute's activities are characterized by participation in large international and interdisciplinary research projects funded by foreign research funds. The focus is on studying the societies and environments of the Arctic and the human dimension of sustainable development in the north.
Sailor background served as inspiration for research
Níels was born and raised in the East Fjords of Iceland, in the Norðfjörður area. He comes from a seafaring family and spent many summers at sea with his father. "I learned a lot about the struggle for life and the interaction with natural forces," says Níels. "This experience is something I'm grateful for, especially when sitting in a chair in the office, looking out the window, not feeling cold, nor particularly tired, and in a safe environment."
After completing secondary school, Níels studied anthropology at the University of Iceland and later pursued further studies at Uppsala University in Sweden. He obtained his doctorate in anthropology, which he partly worked on at the University of Oxford in England. His dissertation focused on the conflicts surrounding seal hunting in the Arctic, using anthropological analysis of the environmentalist ideology and the practices of hunters. "This relates to the Arctic in the sense that traditional groups and communities that rely on marine resources and animal hunting inhabit this area. It is a significant issue and a matter of livelihood for these communities to maintain their rights to utilize natural resources according to their own definitions of what is right, partly due to the limited alternative livelihood options," says Níels.
The institute is based on anthropology
The institute is named after Vilhjálmur Stefánsson, a Icelandic-Canadian who was a Harvard-educated anthropologist. Níels states that Vilhjálmur had a different understanding as an anthropologist compared to other Arctic researchers. Vilhjálmur spent a total of about 11 years living among the Inuit in the Arctic. He emphasized that the Arctic regions could be suitable for habitation and believed that this perspective was based on the accumulated knowledge of indigenous peoples about the natural environment and their adaptation to it. "The institute follows Vilhjálmur's motto regarding the Arctic countries, appreciating that these communities are worthy of respect, remarkable, and that they deserve to be studied," says Níels.
Have received numerous foreign grants
From the beginning, the institute has been actively collaborating with international partners on research projects related to the Arctic. To ensure the institute's sustainability, as it relies on limited and decreasing public funding, its staff has achieved great success in securing funding from competitive international funds, obtaining around 600 million ISK in the past 10 years. Such funding in highly competitive international settings is the best measure of the quality of the institute's work. Níels says they are working on significant projects supported by the Nordic Research Council and the Horizon 2020 program of the European Union, including the JUSTNORTH project, which focuses on sustainable economic development and justice issues in the Arctic. The institute's staff has also played leading roles in other Horizon 2020 projects, such as NUNATARYUK, which addresses the significant issues related to permafrost thaw in the Arctic, its impacts on societies, and potential adaptations.
Still enjoys fishing
Níels enjoys living in Akureyri: "I come from a seafaring background, so I take full advantage of Eyjafjörður. I have a sailboat that I use both for sailing and fishing. I think it's a shame that people don't utilize the fjord more, not only for getting food from the freezer but also for enjoying its beauty," says Níels.
"The institute follows Vilhjálmur's motto regarding the Arctic countries, appreciating that these communities are worthy of respect, remarkable, and that they deserve to be studied."