Canoeing the Yukon River, photo by Dave Neufeld

Transnational Discussions at NiCHE Northern Workshop

Canoeing the Yukon River, photo by Dave Neufeld

Event Date: Jun 11 2009 – Jun 15 2009
Event Website: Event Webpage
City: Whitehorse, Yukon
Country: Canada
Primary Contact Name: Liza Piper
Contact Email: liza.piper@ualberta.ca

Between June 11 and 15, a group of students, faculty, and northern community members gathered under the midnight sun to consider the intersections of northern and environmental history. Organized by Liza Piper (University of Alberta), Brad Martin (Northwestern University), David Neufeld (Parks Canada), and myself, the workshop drew participants from across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to discuss northern research from within the North itself. For three days we discussed northern histories, geographies, and cultures and considered how colonization, militarization, exploration, science, and resource extraction have shaped the North before heading out in canoes to paddle the Yukon River, hike the Carcross Dunes, and visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The weekend was capped off by a stimulating keynote public address by Tina Loo that drew together some of the themes of the workshop.

The group at Helen’s Fish Camp, photo by Dave Neufeld

The group at Helen’s Fish Camp, photo by Dave Neufeld

With the support of the Transnational Ecologies Project I organized a panel to speak to some of the transnational elements of northern environmental history and geography. The panel, “Indigenous Relations: Past, Present, and Future”, focused attention on the relations between northern Indigenous peoples and between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state. Millie Kuliktana (Kugluktuk, NU) was unable to attend but her involvement in organizing a gathering of Inuit and Dene in Kugluktuk in 2008 was described in a video documenting the event. George Mackenzie, Grand Chief of the Tli Cho Nation (Behchokö, NT) also shared his thoughts on this transnational gathering, as well as the importance of the land to young people and what culture means to the Tli Cho government. I presented aspects of my research into how the Bloody Falls massacre story has shaped relations between Inuit and Dene, and how the gathering in Kugluktuk represented a purposeful departure from colonial histories of conflict towards a shared future, defined by Indigenous peoples for themselves. Frank Tester (University of British Columbia) pointed to the central importance of capitalism in defining relations between Inuit and the state. His study of housing in Inuit communities, which he described as one of the biggest public health scandals in Canadian history, highlighted the ways in which capital defines relations both within and between nations.

In addition to the panel discussions, workshop participants considered broader questions shaping their work in history, geography, anthropology, social work, science studies, environmental studies, and Indigenous self-government. Liza Piper led a discussion about the importance of place in northern environmental history and the ways in which specific places in the North are implicated in North-South, circumpolar, and international frameworks. The production of the North as a distinct region inevitably raises questions about transnational ecological, political, and cultural geographies, as well as the legacy of colonial understandings of ‘North’. While sharing a meal at Helen’s Fish Camp, Ta’an Kwach’an Elder Frances Woolsey welcomed participants to Ta’an Kwach’an traditional territory and shared her stories about growing up, raising children, and working in the Yukon. Her stories spoke to the personal and cultural articulations of militarization, colonialism, and resource extraction as well as the deeply storied land upon which the workshop was held. As we paddled the Yukon River among eagles, beavers, and cliff swallows, past subdivisions and sewage outflows, and among the remains of telegraph lines and the fresh green of cranberry bushes, the importance of holding northern workshops in the North was apparent.

A big thanks to all our sponsors (NiCHE, Parks Canada, and the Canadian Circumpolar Institute) and to the workshop participants for a memorable and thought-provoking weekend. Links to the workshop schedule, participant information, the post-workshop blog and additional photos can be found on the workshop webpage.

 

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