Trent-Yukon Model Arctic Council

Last week, 19 student delegates from seven universities in Canada, the Netherlands and the UK participated in the first Trent-Yukon Model Arctic Council (TRYKOMAC). TRYKOMAC was sponsored by Trent University (where I’m an adjunct faculty member) and Yukon University, funded by Universities Canada, and designed and managed by Polar Aspect. Taking place online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the first ‘virtual’ Model Arctic Council for universities that I’ve run, following the success of my first Online Model Arctic Council for secondary schools.

TRYKOMAC took place over three days from Wednesday 24th to Friday 26th March, with four hours of online meetings on each day. Student delegates played the roles of diplomats from Arctic states and Indigenous peoples’ organisations, and they took up the challenge of negotiating a political declaration on the issue of Arctic permafrost thaw. As at the real Arctic Council, delegates had to make all their decisions by consensus, which stretched and challenged their interpersonal skills and their ability to forge agreement with one another.

Many of the delegates had no prior experience of model diplomacy or the Arctic. Over the course of four intense negotiation sessions, however, they drafted and adopted a thoughtful and unanimous final declaration on the issue. Along the way, they benefitted from reflective discussion with Tony Penikett OC, a former Premier of Yukon Territory in Canada, and an internationally respected Arctic expert, negotiator and author. Tony is currently involved in an effort to engage the Canadian Government more closely with Arctic permafrost thaw, and he gave the students a fascinating presentation on the issue.

At my in-person MAC conferences, delegates have the opportunity to get to know one another at dinners and other social events. But even though TRYKOMAC took place online, delegates still enjoyed a ‘virtual social’ after the first day of negotiations. Social events such as these are an important part of ‘breaking the ice’ between delegates, and motivating them to reach consensus with one another despite different views. And in true Polar Aspect tradition, delegates also had the chance to test their knowledge against an ‘Arctic pub quiz’!

I’m pleased to say that the student delegates seem to have found TRYKOMAC both enjoyable and educational. Delegate feedback has been very positive, including such comments as:

  • ‘A wonderful conference, exceptionally well-organised, and great fun to take part in’
  • ‘Really nice group of Secretariat and fellow delegates’
  • ‘Definitely learned a lot on the politics and economics of the Arctic, and international relations’
  • ‘I learnt a lot about myself… I really enjoyed doing the research and behind-the-scenes negotiating on clauses, so I think that policy research might be something for me’
  • ‘I have now chosen the topic of permafrost for a university assignment’
  • ‘I absolutely encourage you all to continue with running these conferences!!!!!

At the final reflection session, a few delegates also said that TRYKOMAC taught them confidence speaking in public and negotiating with others. Two delegates in particular explained that TRYKOMAC helped them feel less shy about voicing their views and taking part in discussions. These comments echo the experience of delegates to the 2019 Norwich Model Arctic Council for University—my first in-person university MAC—and they are very heartening for me to hear as an educator!

This year’s TRYKOMAC conference is intended to be the first of a new series. Pending improvements in the Covid-19 situation, future TRYKOMACs will hopefully take place in person in future, on the campuses of Trent University in Peterborough and Yukon University in Whitehorse. If you’d like to be kept informed of future TRYKOMAC conferences, or other Polar Aspect MACs, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Finally, I’d like to record my sincere thanks to Heather Nicol of Trent University and Amanda Graham of Yukon University for sponsoring TRYKOMAC, and to Kate Logan of Trent University for her assistance with logistics. I’d also like to extend very special thanks to the students serving on my TRYKOMAC Secretariat—Amanda Casey of the Royal Military College of Canada, and Nicole Covey and Olivia Silk of Trent University—whose able help managing the conference was crucial to its success.

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