Kiera Kolson of Yellowknife has returned from her cross-country ski trek to the North Pole feeling “humbled, validated and hopeful,” she said.
The 27 year-old Arctic Outreach Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada travelled to the top of the world to raise awareness of the need for environmental protection in the Arctic from the encroaching oil and fishing industries.
As part of Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign, Kolson and 15 others set out on Apr. 5 from Russia’s northern Barneo base to deposit an eco-friendly time capsule into the seabed through ice and 4 km of freezing water.
The capsule carried the names of 3 million campaign supporters, all calling for a global sanctuary in the Arctic. It also included the winning design for the Flag of the Future contest, sponsored by the campaign and selected by distinguished fashion tycoon Vivienne Westwood, which inspired youth in 54 different countries to create a flag symbolizing peace, hope and the joint commitment to safeguard natural resources.
“It was magical being there in such a pure environment with all the white and aquamarines…It really validated why this space needs to be protected,” Kolson, a Tso’Tine-Gwich’in motivational speaker and singer/songwriter, said in an interview. “To be a part of something so big is kind of remarkable.”
Kolson and the four other Greenpeace youth ambassadors on the journey, including actor Ezra Miller, who recently starred in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, held a ceremony before lowering the capsule and completing the mission.
“When we’re leaving something behind or taking something, there must be a balance restored. I passed some tobacco around and we put our wishes and energy into the tobacco and pushed that down as well,” Kolson said.
She also spoke about the importance of honouring and respecting indigenous rights and culture at the ceremony.
“We have so much we’re fighting for in this generation so that we can continue a traditional manner of sustenance…We cannot allow governmental or industrial influences to sway us from those inherent rights,” she told The Journal. “Our children deserve fresh water. This is not just an indigenous issue. This is a human issue…We have to work together. That’s what we did out there, we worked together and succeeded, and that resonated with me. I hope it resonates with others.”
Kolson made sure to fly the Gwich’in and Dene Nation flags when she reached the pole in honour of everyone supporting her back home in the NWT.
“Oh yes, you’ve got to represent,” she said with a laugh. “It was a powerful experience for me individually and something that will stay with me forever.”
The group, dubbed Team Aurora, took nearly 10 days to reach its destination due to drifting ice floes and rough terrain.
“We tried to travel 10 km a day, but we’d do that and then drift back 7 km. The next day we’d travel 5 km and drift back 5. The ice movement was very frustrating,” Kolson said.
Finally, a helicopter picked them up to get them back on track, setting them down closer to the North Pole.
Throughout the entire trek, the power of the pristine and dangerous environment was a constant companion, Kolson said.
A group of Russian explorers headed out a few days before Team Aurora and two of them were medevaced back after extreme frostbite.
“The environment is in control…Four of our equipment sleds cracked and so I had to pull mine backwards and it got caught more easily this way. It took me down a few times and I almost fell into open water which was quite frightening.”
Additionally, skiing over uneven, icy surfaces made for slow going.
“It felt like skiing over the rubble from a fallen building,” Kolson said. “I put skins on my skis to help me get over the raised areas from pressure ridges.”
But the weather, holding at around -25C for the journey, didn’t phase Kolson, who is used to such temperatures, and the wind held off until the group’s final day when a blizzard struck in the morning.
During the voyage, the team had requested a meeting with members of the Arctic Council who were also flying in for their first meeting ever at the North Pole. They were refused.
“Here are four youth from across the globe serious about climate change with this beautiful incentive centered on the Arctic and these leaders fly over us and then fly back. To not have a second for us, that was discouraging,” Kolson said.
“Hopefully our actions are taken to heart and this becomes a sanctuary because it is such a magical, magnificent space and for those of us who do have connections to the land, I believe this is what our ancestors advocated for, to have a voice for the earth.”