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Fulbright Canada And UW Arctic Studies Bring Cutting-Edge Thinking To Arctic Change

March 8, 2016



On January 26, 2016, the University of Washington’s (UW) Canada Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies program* and Fulbright Canada hosted an afternoon symposium** in Ottawa to celebrate the UW-Fulbright Canada relationship and to highlight the research of current and former Chairs. Speakers included: Tony Penikett, former Premier of the Yukon Territory and 2013-14 UW Canada Fulbright Chair; Sari Graben, professor at Ted Rogers School of Business at Ryerson University and 2012-13 UW Canada Fulbright Chair; Heather Nicol, professor at Trent University and 2015-16 UW Canada Fulbright Chair; and Andrew Stuhl, professor at Bucknell University and 2015-16 Carleton University Canada Fulbright Chair.

Penikett’s presentation focused on identity politics concerning the North. Penikett pointed out that Canadian politicians frequently invoke the nation’s northern identity, yet they do not define it. This omission leads to projects or strategies carried out in the name of “the North,” which can be at odds with those who live in the North. According to Penikett, the concept of the North can be framed as a national social construct. Understanding Canadian national identity as, in part, a social construction can lend insight into Canada’s leadership role in the founding of the Arctic Council. For nations that do not typically identify as an Arctic nation, such as the United States or the new Asian Observers on the Arctic Council, there is an increased need to develop a sense of connection to the Arctic region in an effort to mobilize their citizens and garner awareness about the Arctic.

There needs to be a push at the national and subnational levels for greater collaboration. While the Arctic Council can help fulfill this need with possible regional representation as Observers, this lack of subnational collaboration makes it difficult for issues (like the high price of food in the North) to be dealt with on a regional basis because a national standard cannot equally apply to all of Canada’s extremely diverse lands. In working to improve the effectiveness of the Arctic Council, regional governance within each member state, according to Penikett, should have some role and voice to increase efficiency in defining, addressing, and solving key issues.

Graben focused on Indigenous law, particularly with regard to the legal duty to consult Indigenous groups as codified in Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Graben examined mitigating risk in the protection of Indigenous rights. She pointed out that every application, presented to the National Energy Board of Canada, that highlighted issues that could affect Inuit had been approved, without the due diligence of consultation. Industries have been delegated the responsibility to accommodate these consultations; however, there has been a growing culture through negotiation to handle these matters out of court. In order to facilitate effective and equitable economic growth, there needs to be a greater enfranchisement of Indigenous populations within these decisions. Also, monitoring and auditing of agencies to ensure that consultations are occurring within the framework of the law can keep agencies accountable for their actions.

Nicol reflected on the geopolitics in the Arctic and the “colonialism of neglect”: the effects of colonialism in the Arctic and their continuing effect in Arctic communities. Nicol noted that the rising geopolitics in the Arctic is not uniquely determined by climate change but very much can be traced back to historical colonialism and neoliberalism – which is still continuing. Thus, there is a great need to consider the historical impact on Indigenous people that continues to cause cross-generational trauma and many social issues, like mental health, that are impacting the ability of Arctic Indigenous peoples to fully participate in society and to have full agency. Furthermore, the intentions of Arctic nations can differ from the agency these nations have, which can change Arctic cooperation into conflict. Understanding this cultural backdrop is fundamental to any effective governance in the Arctic, as continued neglect will exacerbate political tensions between states as well as between subpopulations and nation-states.

Stuhl’s presentation on “The History, Science, and Politics of the Environmental Impact Assessment” brought a new lens to this cornerstone practice. The possible impact of Project Chariot (1958-1962), which was a movement to create a deep water port in Alaska by detonating several nuclear bombs, spurred on the development of the impact assessment statement and altered the path of the environmental movement for decades to come. This project led to the eventual discovery of radioactive isotopes in the Arctic food chain, leading to the global realization that ecosystems are fragile and interconnected. The discourse surrounding the Arctic – from dangerous to disturbed – determined what impacts were more likely to be assessed. As a result, the Arctic has been talked about as a place stuck in time, and we must rid the Arctic of this discourse for it to develop in the right direction.

The presenters reflected on their respective areas of expertise and wove together a common thread: there is a tendency to act without taking others (whether individuals or the environment) into account. This practice has resulted in a lack of voice, regardless of intention; a continued suppression, despite how unintentional or covert; and a destructive capacity. Moving forward, actions like impact assessments and regional input the Arctic Council can give populations the ability to thrive and preserve their culture or environment. Developing these new frameworks are key to Task Force in examining through a multitude of lenses the various issues surrounding the Arctic and the Arctic Council. The symposium connected scholars and students through their mutual connection with University of Washington’s Fulbright program and gave broad outreach for both groups to the greater public.


* The Canada Fulbright Visiting Chair in Arctic Studies is supported by the UW Office of Global Affairs, the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, Social Sciences Division, College of Arts and Sciences, College of the Environment, and the Foundation for Educational Exchange Between Canada and the United States of America, Ottawa. The Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, serves as the hosting unit for the Canada Fulbright Chair.

** The symposium in Ottawa was part of the week-long program for the Jackson School’s 2016 transnational Task Force – JSIS 495C Task Force on the Arctic as a New Player in International Relations

Authors: Jackson School of International Studies Course #495C, Task Force Participants on the Arctic

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.