We are mourning the loss of our friend and longtime Oceans North colleague Alfred Jakobsen, 62, who died on February 12 in Nuuk, Greenland. Alfred joined our staff in 2015 and was our Greenland Projects Director. In that role, he worked to promote sustainable fisheries in Greenland and was a tireless advocate for trans-boundary Inuit cooperation and Indigenous rights.
Alfred was instrumental in the growth of Oceans North as an independent NGO and in the identification of shared concerns and dreams for the peoples of Greenland and Canada as we worked toward the goal of keeping our oceans healthy and productive.
Alfred ran the Secretariat for the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, the Canada-Greenland initiative that was created in 2016 and was led by Kuupik Kleist, Eva Aariak, and Okalik Eegeesiak. Alfred was a key member of the team that traveled with the commissioners to communities in Northern Greenland and the Qikiqtaaluk, including Siorapaluk and Qaanaq and Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay. During the hearings, they consulted with Inuit about how to protect and manage the rich marine region called Pikialasorsuaq, a large polynya located between Greenland and Nunavut. True to his nature, Alfred was a goodwill ambassador everywhere he went, bridging languages and cultures, and treating those with divergent viewpoints with dignity, no matter the disagreement.
Alfred was also a great ambassador for mattaq, sharing his delight in cooking and eating sea and country food, and always making his case for deep fried mattaq (often to skeptical audiences accustomed to eating the delicacy raw!) One of the things that made Alfred so effective was that he loved life and approached the world with an enthusiasm that was infectious. He loved children and was so proud of his own.
Alfred also played a key role in helping to convince 10 parties to sign an international Arctic fisheries agreement for the Central Arctic Ocean. He traveled to Moscow, Shanghai, Ottawa, Iqaluit, and Washington, D.C., to explain why this huge area of ocean should be protected until scientific research can ensure a sustainable fishery. The result was an agreement to prevent commercial fishing for 16 years, coupled with increased scientific research co-produced with Inuit knowledge and the participation of Inuit experts. When all 10 parties gathered in Greenland to sign the agreement in 2018, the organizers asked Alfred to address the delegates on its importance. His voice of reason, supplemented with anecdotes about his childhood fishing and his passion for a Greenland ruled by Greenlanders, encouraged an atmosphere of common sense and cooperation across the Arctic.
Alfred had an impressive career that spanned Greenland’s politics, its senior bureaucracy, the Inuit Circumpolar Council and KNAPK. He brought this experience into his work with Oceans North, for which we are so grateful.
On a personal note, it was Alfred who impressed on me the importance and strength of the simple principles enunciated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, long before its formal adoption by Canada. One of these principles — free prior and informed consent — he would repeat to me as a mantra, until I embraced it as a touchstone. His voice guides our work still.
We express our deep condolences to Alfred’s family and friends. He is survived by his wife Aviaaja Rosing Jakobsen and their three daughters Parnaq, Arnatsiaq and Nunni, as well as another daughter, Naduk, from a previous partner.
On behalf of all of Oceans North, we salute you Alfred Jakobsen: colleague, family man, citizen, friend.
Christopher Debicki is vice-president of policy and counsel for Oceans North.