From the Magazine

Letter from the Editor: Research and the Northern imaginary

When Northern Public Affairs was founded five years ago, our mission was to create a space for Northerners, researchers, and decision makers to share ideas, debate policy, and to present the latest research on the North, its peoples, environment, and economy.

Central to this mission was seeking out new and emerging scholarly voices, whose fresh perspectives on the challenges – and opportunities – facing Northern Canada could invigorate the kind of debate we were looking to foster. We wanted the magazine to be at the forefront conversations about Northern politics and public policy for both our Northern and southern audiences.

At the same time, we wanted to showcase the perspectives of established scholars, thinkers, and policy makers whose work has defined whole fields of scholarship and shaped the North as we both imagine and see it today.

In this issue, Morgan Moffitt, Courtney Chetwynd, and Zoe Todd ask the provocative questions: What do researchers owe Northerners? And, should Northern research be in Northern hands? These questions are particularly pressing in the social sciences, where the political and policy implications of research are often the most tangible.

The answer to the latter question is a complicated one. Northerners should have access to research institutions, preferably in university form, in the North itself. However, the benefits Northerners have reaped from the diversity of approaches, voices, and perspectives from research conducted throughout Canada and elsewhere are obvious. The publication history of this magazine demonstrates these benefits.

An equally, if not more, important question is what all researchers – no matter where they come from or where they are based – owe Northerners. Here, the answer is more straightforward. We owe Northerners rigour, collaboration, and respect. Above all, we owe them our ears: to listen and to centre their experiences in our work.

In this issue, we present two admirable examples of this approach to Northern research. The first is a special section, co-edited by Sara Komarnisky and Lindsay Bell, which brings together nine emerging scholars in a series titled Arctic Interruptions. In these articles, emerging scholars, ranging from historians to anthropologists to geographers, look at how global forces are shaping Northern Canada in unexpected and sometimes exciting ways. Together, the articles demonstrate how the North has been “interrupted” – dislocated, transformed, or remade – by forces such as migration, commodities markets, the built environment, and the practices of researchers in the humanities and social sciences.

Collectively, their research shows us the North as it exists, but one which is rarely seen in popular or southern depictions. Lindsay Bell and Jesse Colin Jackson’s beautiful photo essay of life in Hay River’s lone high-rise is a stunning example of this dislocation. Far from the solitary cabin or wind-swept iglu – both of which have so captured southern imaginations – their images of a subarctic high-rise disrupt our expectations, reshaping what home means in our Northern imaginary.

We also feature in this issue a second special section: a tribute to the eminent political scientist, Graham White. For almost 30 years, White’s work on the development of Northern political institutions has made significant contributions to the academy, bringing attention to the innovation and complexity of the North’s politics to the discipline of political science and beyond. At the same time, his work has been avidly read and celebrated in the North’s legislatures, providing much needed analysis and context into their history and operation.

As Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto and past president of the Canadian Political Science Association, White’s work on the development of territorial Westminster parliaments, Nunavut, and Indigenous government has left an indelible mark on our collective understanding of the North and its politics.

As my own doctoral supervisor, Graham White has taught me the important lessons of what southern-based researchers owe the North. He has dedicated his academic career to listening, documenting, and analyzing Northern politics in partnership with Northerners. He has shaped our conversation about the North, and we are all better for it.

This issue is a testament to the great research – and great researchers – who have worked with Northerners to illuminate the past, understand our present, and plan for the future.

Photo credit: istockphoto/OceanFishing

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