My Northern Journey: Ruari Carthew


I am originally from northern Canada, Yellowknife, and currently live in southern Sweden. I started with UArctic as an intern in 2004, coming fresh out of university in Canada. I was really lucky, because my internship was split between the UArctic International Secretariat in Rovaniemi, Finland and the north2north mobility office that was being established in Alta in Norway, giving me a chance to experience both countries.


By Ruari Carthew, Social Economics Specialist and Consultant, Self-employed


The people that I crossed paths with were really genuine; good mentors with lots of wisdom and life experiences to share. But one thing that stood out was that they seemed to have a more common purpose and unity around the vision of UArctic, which was still in its infancy at the time. That unity of purpose and desire to make things work in the North for northerners was a really powerful experience and resonated with me. I took that with me to what I now do, where I work a lot with northern communities. I am really interested in helping to empower them to work with what they have, with the strengths they have, as well as exploring the things that work out in other similar circumpolar environments.

I have always had a love for the North. It is a unique part of the world because it is so vast, and so ecologically sensitive, but also very undeveloped. And there is just tremendous potential. My background is in ecology and environmental studies, so I am very much aware of how vulnerable the northern environment and climate is to change. We are definitely seeing that with climate change now. My northern journey has really revolved around trying to help sustain and protect this notion of a sustainable North, one that continues to work still for the people and for the environment. That is what originally enticed me to do the internship with UArctic, which in turn influenced my selection of further studies.

As a social economics specialist and consultant, I work a lot in the environmental assessment processes. The intent is to design and develop projects that are going to not only be economically viable but also have as small an impact as possible on the environment, while building a positive legacy for the people who are affected by the project. In northern Canada, the vast majority of those affected are Indigenous groups and communities, and the communities also tend to be very remote. I have had the opportunity and pleasure of being a senior reviewer on a lot of projects in the North, including some of major development projects. For instance, the establishment of a new highway that would connect a remote fly-in community to the highway system of Canada, which could take you anywhere in the country; a tremendous, tremendous change to that community and the lifestyle that they have known.

The work that goes on behind the scenes in those projects is massive. The input and analysis that goes into the development of the final decision, how that project proceeds, the lasting impact that the project will have on the ground, and the safeguards that are put in place to make sure that the community is protected... When you have a lot of professionals collaborating to understand really complex issues, and trying to put their heads together to come up with creative solutions on how to minimize impacts and maximize benefits… Those types of projects are the ones that I am most proud of. It directly feeds into the main goal that has driven me in my career, which is to help build the resilience of the environment and vulnerable groups. You are developing something, so you are contributing to a sustainable economy, but you are also making sure that the environment is protected in a meaningful way for all users, and that the community is protected in terms of their health, security, and safety. And there are lasting benefits that come to those people as well. It is really great to know that all of one’s work efforts make a difference, and that good things can come from that. I think it is really meaningful.

It has been really rewarding for me to see my work make a difference on the ground and have an impact. It continues to drive me, give me energy, and help maintain my passion. That is one element of why it is great to work in the North. Another is that I have received so many opportunities growing up in the North - and through my experiences in the North - that it feels good to give back. My heart is very much connected to this region, its environment, and its peoples. I want to remain part of that community, and I always find myself coming back to it. Even now, when I live in southern Sweden, I have made an active decision to continue working for the North from afar. I exclusively work right now in the northern environment, predominantly in Canada, and I find more of a connection and comfort there.

There is a common colloquialism, which I first heard at UArctic and repeat all the time now, that people in the North often have more in common with one another than their counterparts in the South. That has certainly held true for me in my journeys across the circumpolar world. The people are fantastic, and the nature is fantastic, and put them together… Hopefully we can maintain it all for future generations.