Arctic Interruptions

North, Interrupted

This is the first article in our ongoing Arctic Interruptions series. Edited by Sara Komarnisky and Lindsay Bell, this series challenges our expectations about the North and opens new windows on its life and history. This series will appear in Volume 4, Issue 1 of Northern Public Affairs.

A Gwich’in woman works on her PhD in history while out to fish camp. A Guyanese landlord scrambles to repair the fire alarm system of a seventeen story high rise building in tiny subarctic town. After celebrating their daughter’s quinceañera in Michoacán, a Mexican family returns home to Anchorage. These scenes, taken from the everyday realities of people across circumpolar North America might seem anomalous, strange, or somehow out of place to most non-Northern people. They interrupt what many people expect of Arctic places, people, and processes.

As researchers, we are inspired by these interruptions and the interrupted. They challenge us to rethink our models for understanding ‘the North’ and force us to grapple with the complexities that make up lived realities of a globalized Arctic. The circumpolar world is often depicted as distant, empty, and isolated, disconnected from powerful economic or cultural centers further south. This ongoing series in Northern Public Affairs brings together research from emerging scholars to illustrate how the North has always been an important strategic region for global activities such as resource exploration and extraction (Cater, Keeling & Sandlos), military exercises, scientific investigation, conservation efforts, highly valued art and craft production, missionization (Fraser), colonial exploration, Northern shipping routes, government megaprojects, as well as human and animal migrations (Bell & Jackson, Komarnisky). These global processes both interrupt and are interrupted by local and trans local life ways.

Our focus on interruptions is inspired by the work of Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson. In her recent book, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, Simpson theorizes an ongoing interruption of the story of settlement by the Iroquois people. Iroquois political life, “in its insistence upon certain things – such as nationhood and sovereignty – fundamentally interrupts and casts into question the story that the settler states tell about themselves” (Simpson 2014: 177). The story of the North is one of settlement interrupted. In both Canada and Alaska, local histories reveal how national plans are never easily applied.

Past human migrations and government relocations, and Alaska Native and Canadian First Nations, Inuit, and Métis claims to territory have all shaped the social and geographical landscape. Desire for land and resources continually produces the north as a “problem” for policy makers determined to try and find means expropriate wealth without causing human suffering. Here, we move to not think of the ‘North’ as a problem of/in place, rather we locate inequality in the movement of people, capital, goods and ideas in out and around the region. Through theoretically and empirically rich scholarship, we seek to interrupt expectations about the circumpolar north and give insight into the multiplicity of trajectories that have always produced northern spaces. We focus on the important political struggles and subtleties of everyday and anomalous acts of Northern living. Specifically, the work we present here intends to interrupt expectations of Northern life (Bell & Jackson, Komarnisky), ways of thinking about industrial mining projects in Northern spaces (Cater, Keeling & Sandlos), and the status-quo of research practice in the North (Fraser, Chetwynd, Moffitt, & Todd).

The ongoing conversations that led up to this series in Northern Public Affairs began at a meeting at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in 2014 under the theme “Arctic Crossings”. In addition to the generous funding provided by the Liu Institute, we would like to acknowledge the participation and insight of Julie Cruikshank, Dory Nason, Emilie Cameron, Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox, Marie-Hélène Cousineau, Dawn Hoogeveen, Jessica Hallenbeck, Joshua Moses, Hannah Voorhees and Julia Christensen.◉


Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/satori13

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