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The Pas Story

May 31, 2012

“All Aboard the CCGS Harper to a Glorious Ice-Free North” by Avery Ascher
(CCGS stands for Canadian Coast Guard Ship, the designation on Canada’s fleet of ice breakers)

“Canada and the US need to join forces when it comes to the Arctic.” Lloyd Axworthy

This being election year in the USA, imagine an electoral district more than twice the size of Washington State with a total population of 75,000 people. This describes the Churchill riding (voting district) in subarctic, northern Manitoba. Within this riding, the town of The Pas is home to the University College of the North, which hosted an important symposium Gateways North, Expansion, Convergence and Change. The keynote speaker was Tomson Highway, Order of Canada, playwright, novelist and indigenous activist. Mayors from two towns, the MP from Churchill riding, the predominantly Cree elder council who are one of the governing boards of UCN, scientists, artists, historians, Cree dancers and hunters all participated and shared knowledge.

As part of developing a field institute for US and Canadian students and faculty in Churchill, Manitoba, summer of 2013, I had the privilege of attending the symposium. Starting by making connections and receiving invitations to work together, at the Universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, where Lloyd Axworthy, renown statesman, is president, I took a ten hour bus ride north to The Pas.

In The Pas, I was welcomed and spent two days of intense learning. The Cree elders took me under their wings and told me many wonderful stories of the land, the people, the history, the horrors of residential schools, and the strength of traditions. One story was of a community where the water main had broken and they had to wait an extra month this year for the winter roads (when the lakes freeze and trucks can reach communities to which there are no land roads). The organizer of the conference told me that I did not need to bring winter clothes. The ice had broken up at least three weeks early. The textile art of the fraying of the polar bear and the artist’s well researched presentation about the politics and economics of the arctic and the polar bear as the canary in the mine of global warming were bookends to the stories.

If Canada and the US are to join forces in relationship to the Arctic, it is essential that those of us who live in the south (and Winnipeg is considered the south in The Pas, which is only in the sub arctic) become educated and consider the rich and multifaceted lands, natural environments, peoples of the Arctic in our economic, political and cultural foci. Please consider joining us in Churchill and environs next summer.