As the sun rises on Fairbanks, Alaska, host to the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting, the city’s ‘Week of the Arctic’ celebration is drawing to a close. Three days of workshops and science presentations have left the impression that a new Arctic “gold-rush” is underway. Yet Fairbanks, which advertises itself as a “gateway to the Arctic”, feels more like a sprawling midwestern American town.
A day earlier, at the Fairbanks Morris Thompson Cultural Center, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomed Alaskan Indigenous delegates, while protesters from Defend the Sacred Heart of Alaska and Greenpeace shouted their opposition to the Republican administration’s policies outside. That same day, a letter-to-the-editor in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner suggested a novel way to pay off Alaska’s debt: Instead of dipping into the Alaska Permanent Fund, financed through windfall hydrocarbon and mineral royalties, how about a state-wide tax? “What’s going to happen when the oil companies say, ‘See ya’?” it asked.
Later that afternoon at a reception for arriving ministerial delegates, Tillerson, who is Chair of the ministerial meeting, admonishes the gathering Arctic Council officials: “There is much work to be done!” At the back of the room, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov looks on, having just arrived on his Ilyushin-96 jet from a meeting with United States President Trump in Washington, D.C.