The Canadian Consulate in Seattle was at capacity on Oct. 24 for Vancouver-based Tony Penikett’s talk on “Where is the Arctic, who lives there, what are their security interests.” Penikett is the inaugural Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington.
The talk coincided with the proposed University of Washington’s Arctic minor, an interdisciplinary program to be housed in the Canadian Studies Center at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Oceanography, College of the Environment, in collaboration with the University of the Arctic.
Posted around the room were maps of the Earth with the North Pole situated in the center. From this point of view it becomes apparent why the Arctic Council of international stakeholders has formed to collaborate on issues such as food security, land claims, and conservation. The Arctic Council is composed of eight member countries and six indigenous groups with permanent participant status.
For his talk, Penikett focused on Alaska and Canada’s northern territories.
The United States and Canada have historically approached the Arctic in different ways, Penikett said. For example, the U.S. has focused on national security and Arctic stewardship whereas Canada has focused on Arctic sovereignty. Penikett noted that Canada has put more of its resources toward forming communities instead of bolstering defense forces.
For Canada, where indigenous peoples make up half the population in Arctic regions, major concerns include food insecurity, health and education. For the Inuit, who live mostly above the tree line in Canada, 10.8 percent are food insecure. Climate change and ice melt are likely to make it increasingly difficult for the Inuit to hunt and fish for subsistence. In the Yukon, where commercial hunting and fishing used to be given first priority, subsistence users now have the first claim, followed by recreational users, and finally commercial users, Penikett said.
The health of people living in the Arctic is a concern. Suicide rates are high, especially for ages 15-24. Penikett referred to studies that found more self-government protects against suicide and pointed to indigenous groups who are finding new ways to educate their children.
The education of indigenous people in the Arctic region has a dark history. From the late-1800s into the early 1900s, the United States and Canada both forced indigenous children to attend residential boarding schools away from their families and traditions. Today, the concept of residential schools has seen a resurgence, but with a major difference: the schools are run by the indigenous communities they serve. In 1989, Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka, Alaska, opened as a boarding school for rural high school students. Most students attend college after graduating. The school keeps students connected to Alaska Native traditions and students can return home on weekends, Penikett said.
Many areas of the Arctic are desirable to oil companies. One controversial location for potential drilling is the range of the Porcupine caribou in Alaska and Canada. The animal is the primary sustenance for the Gwich’in indigenous people, and there is uncertainty about the effects of drilling on the herd’s population.
Penikett said that as more sea ice melts and new channels of transportation open up in the Arctic, it is likely to increase tensions regarding unsettled land claims, including the Beaufort Sea, located north of Alaska and Canada.
Vincent Gallucci, director of the Canadian Studies Center, praised Penikett for sharing his insights on the Arctic and said the lecture will become an annual event. “It’s important to study these issues in an interdisciplinary fashion,” he said.
About the Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies
The Arctic Chair position – the first in the nation – is for Canadian scholars, scientists, practitioners or community/political leaders to conduct research at the University of Washington, teach the new ARCTIC 401 course for the Arctic minor, present a public lecture on the Arctic, and engage with UW colleagues on various Arctic initiatives. The application deadline for the 2014-15 academic year is Nov. 15, 2013. Apply.
The UW Canada Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies is sponsored by the UW Office of Global Affairs; 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. The Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, serves as the hosting unit for the Canada Fulbright Chair.
The event was hosted by the Canadian Consulate General, Seattle and the Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.
By Kristina Bowman, firstname.lastname@example.org