Description by Emilie Cameron
Between June 11 and 15, 2009, 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 Emilie Cameron (Queen’s University/University of British Columbia), 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.
In addition to panel discussions on themes such as militarization, resource histories, and northern Indigenous relations, 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. Not only did the venue allow for the inclusion of northern political leaders and locally-based graduate students, participants also had a chance to think through the relationship between their research and the distinct geographies of northern places. The workshop provided a particularly welcome opportunity to meet other northern scholars and to discuss common interests. These discussions continued long after the workshop, in part through a blog (http://nichenorth.blogspot.com/) and in part through the relationships formed as we ate, slept, and walked together. Key connecting themes that emerged over the weekend include issues of scale in northern research (how do we conceptualize the “local” and the “global” in our work, and what are some of the limitations of these concepts?) and the ethical and political aspects of our work. Talk frequently turned to the importance of economic and geopolitical processes in determining northern environmental and historical geographies, but also to the importance of northern Indigenous peoples, networks of scientists and explorers, and the intervening effects of legal and juridical processes. An edited collection emerging from the workshop promises to further explore these and other themes.
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