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Portraits of Resilience Exhibit Gives a Voice to Arctic Communities
10/ 12/ 2009

Portraits of Resilience Exhibit Gives a Voice to Arctic Communities 
Copenhagen, 10 December 2009 - A new photography exhibit is bringing the voice of young people in the Arctic to Copenhagen during the UN climate talks.

The Portraits of Resilience photography project, which opened today at Copenhagen's Danish National Museum, illustrates the ethical dimension of the climate change discussion through the words and photographs of high school students in four Arctic communities: Shishmaref, Alaska; Ummannaq, Kalaallit Nunaat/Greenland; Ungàrgga/Nesseby, Norway; and Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Canada.

The goal is to give these young people a voice in Copenhagen in 2009 - and to put a youthful, human face on climate change in the Arctic.

"The exhibition is about people, their cultures and survival in the face of climate change, not just complex negotiating text," Polar expert at UNEP GRID-Arendal and Many Strong Voices Project Coordinator, John Crump, said at the launch.

The Executive Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, Patricia Cochran, said the region's young people were growing up amid melting permafrost and eroding coastlines caused by a phenomenon Alaskans had been discussing for the past 30 years.

"We're extremely resilient, adaptive people but we must use our traditional knowledge base to work with Western Science and not leave it up to other people to come up with the solutions," Mrs Cochran said.

The opening on 10 December featured a discussion with the young photographers about what climate change means in their lives and to their futures. They sited different examples of how climate change was affecting them, ranging from ice hockey seasons cut short due to a lack of thick ice, to the collapse of local bridges built on top of permafrost.

Portraits of Resilience is led by two photographers, Christine Germano and Lawrence Hislop, who have extensive experience documenting human/environment interactions.

Through this project, the students have written essays, learned to take photographs, and worked hard to show their communities to the outside world. Some of their writing focuses on the present, some on the future.

The main message in this work is that people in the Arctic are not helpless victims of climate change - if anything, this exhibition shows that youth have a profound sense of place and a strong desire to see their cultures and communities survive and thrive.

The exhibition also features photographs taken in the Seychelles.

At the launch, the Seychelles Permanent Representative to the UN, Ronny Jumeau, spoke of the special bond between indigenous communities in the Artic north and people living on tropical islands.

"You get worried because your land is appearing through the melting ice, but we get worried that our land is going under," Mr Jumeau said.

"The day you move south is the day we'll be jumping into boats to leave our homeland," he told the 16 young photographers who attended the launch.

Notes to Editors:
The Portraits of Resilience exhibit was organized by the Many Strong Voices (MSV) programme, which is coordinated by UNEP/GRID Arendal and the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

The MSV Programme was created in 2005 to bring together indigenous peoples, community organizations, policy makers, NGOs and researchers from the Arctic and Small Island Developing States. One of its key goals is to make sure the voices of people in these vulnerable regions are heard in United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.

Further Resources
Many Strong Voices - Portraits of Resilience
UNFCCC Official Site
COP 15 Official Site
Editorial by Sheila Watt-Cloutier and Ronny Juneau
UNEP/GRID-Arendal
UNEP COP 15 Coverage