Tso’Tine-Gwich’in artist prepares to ski North Pole

Tso’Tine-Gwich’in artist prepares to ski North Pole
Kiera Kolson, Arctic Outreach Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, cross country skis with a heavy load on her back to prepare for her trek to the North Pole during a training camp in Norway last month. Photo: John Novis.

A Yellowknife woman is standing up for indigenous rights and environmental protection of the Arctic by cross-country skiing to the North Pole this April with Greenpeace.

Kiera Kolson, the Greenpeace Canada’s Arctic Outreach Campaigner for the past year, is training to cross-country ski from Russia’s northern Barneo base to the North Pole with fifteen others.

They will be carrying an environmentally-friendly time capsule that they will lower into the seabed through ice and 4 km of freezing water. The circular capsule is filled with a scroll of the nearly 3 million names on the Save the Arctic campaign.

The campaign calls for a sanctuary in the Arctic to protect it from expanding oil companies and industrial fishing.

“Long story short, the Arctic is in danger…In Russia right now, the frequency of oil spills is just ridiculous. The land is just yellow there…This journey is about representing those people whose names are on the petition,” Kolson, a Tso’Tine-Gwich’in motivational speaker and singer/songwriter, said in an interview.

“Industry has never had to deal with an oil spill under the ice. They wouldn’t know how, which is one of the reasons Shell agreed not to drill in the Arctic this year.”

This year is international water year and everyone should be “truly scared by the lack of accountability for environmental and water protection,” she added. “There will be nothing left for the future generations if we keep this up.”

Kolson, 27, and the rest of the expeditioners, who come from all over the globe – including one young man from Seychelles, an island nation near Madagascar – took part in a five-day winter training exercise in Norway at the beginning of February to build up their endurance and mentally prepare for the extreme conditions they will face.

“I focused on keeping myself warm, lots of layers. We learned to make tents on the ice, how to melt snow with these special burners for water, practiced cross-country skiing, talked about the campaign,” Kolson told The Journal. “It was one of my first times on cross-country skis to be honest, so I’m a bit nervous.”

The journey, expected to take around nine days, is hard to predict. Due to drifting ice floes, it could be anywhere from a 30 to 70 km trek, Kolson noted.

“Our guides tell us some pressure ridges can extend quite high and we’d have to go around them,” Kolson said. “It’s a very hostile, unpredictable zone.”

Saving the Arctic is also about standing up for indigenous peoples with stakes in the area, Kolson said.

“We have a responsibility because as indigenous people we have special relationships as stewards of the land. We need to be heard.”

Marine life in the Arctic provides an array of rich and traditional sustenance for the Inuit and Sami people, and these are “things we cannot afford to abandon to industry,” Kolson said.

“I have a lot of passion for accountability when it comes to our indigenous rights and our human rights because of some of my own personal story, too,” Kolson said.

On her mother’s side, Kolson is a descendant of the disbanded Yellowknives Tso’Tine Nation from the Rocher River region.

“We’re considered a lost tribe. We’re not recognized in any way. But I’m inspired by my culture and my family’s struggle…and in the middle of April, if people look up towards the North Pole, I hope that they think of us and feel inspired to become part of the solution.”

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