I have had the pleasure to know Maria Ackrén for a number of years. While in Nuuk, Greenland for the Royal Danish Defence College Conference, I had an opportunity observe her fantastic conference presentation on the Arctic Council. Afterward, we had a chance to sit down in her office and briefly talk about her research, the conference and life as an academic working at Ilisimatusarfik.

Maria Ackrén in her office at Ilisimatusarfik,
1 October 2019
(Photo taken by Danita Burke)

How did you become involved in the RDDC conference?

It was Rasmus [Leander Nielsen] that was more of the coordinator between the Danish Royal Academy [Royal Danish Defence College] and us at Ilisimatusarfik [University of Greenland] and that’s the way we were involved in it because we wanted to also give something from our side. That’s why we became part of the programme. We know a lot of the researchers that came here as well. In that way maybe it was easier to be part of it as well. Basically it is kind of a way to try and establish some kind of network with the Royal Danish Defense Academy and maybe having some future research projects.

What was your impression of the conference event and it coming to Greenland?

I think it’s a very good idea. It is interesting to have all the military people in their uniforms here and I think also, of course it is also a bit of a small place, since we are so many [people at the conference] and it is also a bit sad that our students cannot participate because of the lack of space, but it is always a problem here in Greenland to find a good venue.

Maria Ackrén presenting at the RDDC Conference in Nuuk, Greenland, 1 October 2019 (Photo taken by Danita Burke)

At the conference you were talking about the Arctic Council and the article you have co-written is done with a number of other scholars, including Heather Exner-Pirot. Please tell me a little bit about how you got into researching the Arctic Council.

This is actually an initiative by Heather. It was last year, at the Arctic Circle Assembly that we had this panel and she wanted us to cooperate on this article [The Arctic Institute“Form and Function: The Future of the Arctic Council”]. That article was the outcome of that panel from last year. I thought it was a good idea and it was also interesting for me to go into that issue a little bit more and see what it’s all about.

You have been based at the University of Greenland for 8 years now, so what has been your experience working and living in Greenland?

It has been a great experience because it’s evolving. It’s a nation-building process here and that’s interesting to follow as a political scientist. There are always things happening and the Arctic is a very hot issue, so it’s a good place to be.

What are you plans now going forward, research and career-wise?

Research-wise I am dealing with a project that is a little bit different. I’m actually involved in a project that is a little bit of a side-line to everything else, a democracy project on the Åland Islands which is initiated by the Åland Islands Peace Institute, which I also have connections to. I’m also working on an article that is related to the mining industry here in Greenland, specifically the uranium mine from a more multi-level governance perspective. This will be an example of how all this multi-level governance clashes with the international level, the national level and the local level, regional level and so on. How things are regulated and how things actually work in practice, in a sense. I have also been thinking of working on foreign security from a Greenlandic perspective. There are these reports coming out from the government every year and maybe mapping those – what has been the focus areas and what has been done over the years. More of a time line, kind of thing.

Over the past 8 years, what has stood out to you as some of the big changes?

There are always interesting things happening within the politics [of Greenland] since the elections and the changing over time and the leadership of the government. There is always a rotation of who’s in charge which is sometimes a little bit chaotic because it’s hard to know what comes out of it in the end, but also all the improvements. Here in Nuuk, you see the buildings, construction everywhere. This town is expanding  on all sides, wherever there is a place to put a house, basically.

Hopefully it speaks of good things for Greenland going forward.

Yes, I hope so.

In addition to attending the conference and our conversation above, Maria and I also had the opportunity to both observe the search and rescue exercises off the coast of Nuuk conducted by the Arctic Command. Some pictures are below.

 (Photo copyright in this piece: Danita Catherine Burke)

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