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Task Force on Arctic sea ice and international policy

Task Force students visit the Inuit post-secondary school in Ottawa, Nunavut Sivuniksavut. Photo credit: Nadine Fabbi.

March 20, 2020

This winter quarter, nine Jackson School undergraduate students traveled to Ottawa for a week to learn about Canada and changing sea ice.

The students were part of the 2020 Task Force program. In the course, students looked at the impact of climate change on Arctic sea ice and engaged in a simulated exercise to draft an Arctic sea ice policy for Canada, where sea ice plays a role in how we understand the Northwest Passage and is an integral part of Inuit life and culture. Students were introduced to how ice is understood in Western science and culture and the role of ice in the lives of Inuit. Students were also be encouraged to think creatively—to think about ice as alive, as having memory, as constituting territory, and as a human right—and to explore ice through science, culture, history, law, and art.

Nadine Fabbi, Canadian Studies Center, and Michelle Koutnik, Earth and Space Sciences—both co-leads on for the Arctic initiative in the International Policy Institute, Jackson School of International Studies—served as co-instructors for the course.

During the final week of January, the nine international studies majors and two UW graduate students visited with three federal departments, three Inuit organizations, four embassies, two universities and over 40 individuals to learn about Canada’s Arctic policies, Inuit policies and political activities, and the changing nature of sea ice.

According to one of the students, “the week we spent in Ottawa was one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had during my time as an undergraduate. Our time in Ottawa challenged me to engage with professionals as well as find the confidence to ask difficult questions. This built on the skills I learned throughout my last four years of college. Before this experience, I felt overwhelmed about writing policy; however, after this week I feel like I have a grasp on how to not only complete this assignment but a possible career in policy after graduation.”

Another student noted, “The 2020 Arctic Task Force trip to Ottawa has been one of the most memorable experiences of my undergraduate career. I have always had a strong interest in being involved with matters that affect Canada, the United States, and the Canada-U.S. relationship. Visiting departments such as Global Affairs Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and meeting some of those working on policy and law for the Canadian government really opened my eyes to a whole new field. I also really enjoyed learning more of the specifics on policy writing and why collaboration and consultation are such an important piece of the policy and lawmaking process.”

Whit Fraser—former CBC reporter, chairman of the Canadian Polar Commission, executive director of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and author of True North Rising—served as expert evaluator for the Task Force report, The Right to Sea Ice: Canadian Arctic Policy and Inuit Knowledge. Due to travel restrictions, the students provided their final presentations to Whit via Zoom conferencing in mid-March.

The Task Force on the Arctic is part of the Donald C. Hellmann Task Force Program. Task Force is the capstone experience in the undergraduate international studies program. Students work in teams recommending responses to international problems. The Jackson School’s degree program is the only undergraduate major in the U.S. with a Task Force capstone experience. Over 3,500 students have completed Task Force since 1983, producing more than 200 policy reports. This is the fifth Task Force on the Arctic since 2009.

More information on the Arctic Task Force can be found here, including photos from the trip to Ottawa and the 2020 Task Force report.

Funding for this course was made possible by the International Policy Institute, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS), University of Washington with Carnegie Corporation of New York grant funding; and by the Canadian Studies Center and Center for Global Studies, JSIS, with Title VI grant funding administered by the International and Foreign Language Education office in the Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education.