Northern Environmental History Workshop

Event Date: Jun 11 2009 – Jun 15 2009
City: Whitehorse, Yukon
Country: Canada
Primary Contact Name: Liza Piper
Contact Email:
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 ( 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.


  • Emilie Cameron, Queen’s University
  • Brad Martin, Northwestern University
  • David Neufeld, Parks Canada
  • Liza Piper, University of Alberta


  • Matthew Farish, University of Toronto
  • Stacey Fritz, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
  • Adam Lajeunesse, University of Calgary
  • Whitney Lackenbauer, St. Jerome’s University, Waterloo
  • Jonathan Peyton, University of British Columbia
  • Dawn Hoogeveen, University of British Columbia
  • Glenn Iceton, University of Calgary
  • Karen Routledge, Rutgers University
  • Millie Kuliktana, Kitikmeot School Operations and the Tahiuqtilt Society, Kugluktuk, NU
  • George Mackenzie, Grand Chief of the TliCho Dene Nation, Behchoko, NWT
  • Frank Tester, University of British Columbia
  • Emilie Cameron, Queen’s University
  • Andrew Stuhl, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Peter Evans, University of Cambridge
  • Christina Sawchuk, University of Cambridge
  • Stephen Bocking, Trent University

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Archived Presentations

NiCHE has archived 16 presentations from this event. 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.

Citation: Farish, Matthew. “‘A Landscape as seen by the Military’: Alaska and the Nature of War.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 12 June 2009.
Bio: Matthew Farish, Geography and Planning, University of Toronto.
Abstract: I will talk about the militarization of Alaska during the 1950s. While the story has many dimensions, most unexplored by historians, the fulcrum of my account is the Air Force’s Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory in Fairbanks (which was open roughly from 1947-67), not just for its experimental use of aboriginal subjects as ‘clues’ to northern nature, but also its approach to Alaska as a laboratory for studying ‘the nature of war’. More generally, I’m interested in military research on cold climates, and the sorts of effects this research had on popular perceptions of the Cold War north.

Citation: Fritz, Stacey. “‘It Isn’t Freedom:’ Sharing Barter Island with the Military.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 12 June 2009.
Bio: Stacey Fritz, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Abstract: This paper explores attitudes and opinions on military activity in the Arctic among the indigenous inhabitants of Barter Island, Alaska. The recent history of the native village of Kaktovik has been largely directed by the island’s military presence: the Air Force built an airstrip on the village site in 1947 and a main DEW Line radar site was constructed on the island in the 1950s. Despite the likelihood that modern Kaktovik would not exist had the military not arrived, residents do not feel culturally affected by the military and are increasingly skeptical about the broader issue of arctic militarization.

Citation: LaJeunesse, Adam. “Sovereignty by Other Means: The Voyage of the Manhattan and the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 12 June 2009.
Bio: Adam Lajeunesse, Department of History, University of Calgary.
Abstract: My research has been focusing primarily on the history of Canadian and American security interests in the Arctic as well as the political and legal issues arising from questions of sovereignty and jurisdiction. I’ve also been doing a lot of work on contemporary and historical resource development that deals with the importance of natural resources to northern and national development and the attempts to protect the environment from this same development. I would be able to contribute on topics such as the political and economic origins of Canada’s pollution control legislation and its contemporary importance or the militarization of the Arctic during the Cold War and beyond. In particular, I was thinking of presenting on the origins of Canada’s Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and how the government used pollution and environmental protection to advance its political/sovereignty agenda in the North. My work would deal with international maritime law and high level diplomacy mostly.

Citation: Lackenbauer, Whitney. “Arctic Sovereignty.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 12 June 2009.
Bio: Whitney Lackenbauer, St. Jerome College, Waterloo.

Citation: Hoogeveen, Dawn. “Mineral Rights and the Law of the Land.” Northern Environmental History Workshop.
Bio: Dawn Hoogeveen, Geography, University of British Columbia
Abstract: Mineral staking regulations that determine mining exploration processes in the Northwest Territories are guided by a historically based assumption called the free-entry principle. This assumption is fundamental to mineral staking legislation and has been criticized because free-entry mineral staking can take place prior to consultation with aboriginal communities with active claims to land title. When free-entry is challenged, property rights questions arise, particularly during the onset of mineral exploration ventures. This paper explains how free-entry works in Canada’s north and examines the legal conflict over mineral rights and aboriginal title. It suggests that the process of free-entry can be understood through an analysis of liberal property regimes and the notion of dis/possession.

Citation: Peyton, Jonathan. “When is Infrastructure Abandoned?: Considering Two Projects in Northwest BC.” Northern Environmental History Workshop.
Bio: Jonathan Peyton, Geography, University of British Columbia
Abstract: This paper interrogates changing environmental perception and the materiality of “unbuilt environments” in the wake of two failed massive infrastructure projects in Northwest British Columbia. The first section examines the failed attempts to build the Yukon-Canadian Railway through the Stikine plateau during the Klondike gold rush. The second section analyses B.C. Hydro’s abandoned attempts to build a series of five dams on the Stikine and Iskut Rivers in the 1970s and 1980s. The paper draws on both examples to interrogate the paraphernalia of these failed infrastructure projects – the reports and surveys, debates, embellishments and expertise – and to suggest ways in which even the failure of these ‘unbuilt environments’ had tangible, material effects on human/nature relationships in Northwest B.C.

Citation: Iceton, Glenn. “Profits and Prophets: The Impacts of Exchange in the Northern Yukon on Shamanism and Wildlife Management.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 12 June 2009.
Bio: Glenn Iceton, History, University of Calgary.
Abstract: My current research is focused upon the fur trade in the northern Yukon, however the Anglican mission story is very much intertwined with the fur trade and very present in the current work I’m doing. What I’m primarily interested in at this point is the interplay and tensions between the fur trade and indigenous governence structures with respect to wildlife management (i.e. taboos, the influence of the shamans, etc.). My research indicates that fur traders found an ally in the Anglican missionaries when trying to bring indigenous harvesting practices into line with market demands as this sometimes meant undermining certain spiritual beliefs, such as the authority of the shaman and the observance of taboos.

Citation: Routledge, Karen. “In These Latitudes: American and Inuit Stories of Survival, 1850-1915.” Northern Environmental History Network. 12 June 2009.
Bio: Karen Routledge, History, Rutgers University.
Abstract: I am currently working on my dissertation, about encounters between Inuit and Americans in each others’ homelands in the nineteenth century. My work would fit into any of the following categories (among other things): Aboriginal histories, oral history and its ethical/methodological implications, fusing northern/environmental history, connections to place, and ideas about arctic environments.

Citation: Tester, Frank. “Iglurjuartaasaavut (Our New Houses): A History of Inuit Housing and Wanton Neglect.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 13 June 2009.
Bio: Frank Tester, Social Work, University of British Columbia.
Abstract: The eastern Canadian Arctic is celebrated – both contemporaneously and historically – as an existential landscape of sweeping vistas and death-defying environmental conditions mingling with a heroic – but more likely foolish – colonial history. By way of contrast, my research and presentation explore the intimate environment of overcrowded and inadequate Inuit housing and the personal and social problems to which these give rise. The origins of the problem are found in a history of providing Inuit with housing geared to ‘ability to pay’ rather than need. I explore these relationships in the context of new environments for habitation; villages of shack housing in the 1950s and inadequate government supplied ‘matchbox’ homes. In the case of Arviat (Eskimo Point), the result was an outbreak oF tuberculosis in 1962, resulting in the evacuation of 32% of the population to southern Canada for treatment.

Citation: Cameron, Emilie. “Geographies of Response: Contextualizing Resistance to the Bloody Falls Massacre Story.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 13 July 2009.
Bio: Emilie Cameron, Geography, Queen’s University.
Abstract: In the early 1970s federal and territorial governments made plans to erect heritage plaques commemorating Samuel Hearne’s journey to the Coppermine River in 1771, a journey that marked the ‘discovery’ of the Coppermine River and the Inuit who inhabited the region by European explorers. The journey also allegedly included the massacre of a group of Inuit by Hearne’s Chipewyan guides at a place along the river known as ‘Bloody Falls’, approximately 10 km from present-day Kugluktuk, Nunavut. The plaques were to be erected in the town of Coppermine, NWT (now Kugluktuk), a primarily Inuit settlement located at the mouth of the Coppermine River, and also at Bloody Falls. This paper considers the responses of the residents of Coppermine/Kugluktuk to the proposed plaques and the ways in which these responses were shaped by an emerging political culture among Inuit in Canada. It considers how Inuit objections to the plaques were articulated with broader northern Indigenous political movements and how these cultures and movements were themselves shaped by the intensification of governmental power and economic ‘development’ in the post-war NWT. The paper problematizes the identification and study of Indigenous ‘resistance’ in postcolonial scholarship through close attention to the details of a year-long dispute between Inuit political leaders, federal and territorial government officials, and other organizations and individuals.

Citation: Stuhl, Andrew. “Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s “friendly Arctic”: Developing a New View of the Canadian North, 1908-1922.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 13 June 2009.
Bio: Andrew Stuhl, CHANGE-IGERT Fellow, Department of History of Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Abstract: I am interested in the interplay among science, commerce, and the Inuit experience in the Beaufort-Delta region of Canada’s western Arctic. My dissertation project will investigate episodes of resource extraction in this area’s history from 1890 until today, paying special attention to the ways in which whaling, Arctic expeditions, fur trading, and oil development shaped and were shaped by northern landscapes and peoples. I am currently working on an essay that interrogates the notion of the “friendly” Arctic that emerged through the writings and influence of Vilhjalmur Stefansson in the early 1900s. I argue that geographers, explorers, zoologists, and government officials subscribed to this imaginary as it provided rhetorical backing for resource development schemes in the Arctic. While the conceptualization of the “friendly” Arctic failed to overpower its rival – the hostile Arctic – this historical episode sheds light on how cultural constructions of the North play important roles in how governmental and scientific institutions have managed the region.

Citation: Evans, Peter. “A Brief History of Isolation in Northern Labrador.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 13 June 2009.
Bio: Peter Evans, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.
Abstract: This presentation focuses on the shifting meaning of “isolation” over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries in Northern Labrador, and how an understanding of various states of isolation enframed Missionary, trader, and, later, government relations with the Northern environment and its people, Inuit. Before the arrival of Moravian Missionaries in the 1770s, bands of Thule Inuit distributed themselves along the length of the Atlantic-Arctic coast and clearly had their own thoughts about engagement with others, including migrant Europeans and their new trade goods and technologies. For the Christian brethren, isolation was a desirable physical and spiritual state to be promoted for evangelical reasons, both to deepen the conversation between the faithful and God, and to insulate native converts from sinful influences. Isolation from non-believing kin and, conversely, the proximity of God were important considerations for Inuit during the mass conversion to Christianity at the beginning of the 19th century. Inuit developed numerous strategies for resisting and reordering the Moravian theocracy that emerged out of the Brethren’s meditations on isolation. However, it was the gradual encroachment of other, secular European influences that eventually began to fragment the insulated Inuit-Moravian world in the later half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The post-World War II years inaugurated a pivotal epoch in Northern history by introducing technologies of transportation and communication that produced a new version of “isolation”–whose ultimate end was to demand the concentration of scattered populations into centralized locations. Because all technologies continue to enframe and produce knowledge about the world in basically the same way today, understanding this era in Northern history remains of ongoing interest. Indeed, policy and public discourse in Canada continues to ponder the fate of “isolated” Northern communities.

Citation: Sawchuk, Christina. “The Scholarly Arctic: Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s Encyclopedia Arctica.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 13 June 2009.
Bio: Christina Sawchuk, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.
Abstract: This project ran for five years in the late 1940s and then was abruptly ended, partly for political reasons. I’ll give an overview of the EA and will suggest what it reveals about the processes of knowledge formation about the Arctic at this time, the creation and distribution of this knowledge, and the spatial dimensions of knowledge production. Christina’s current research examines the cultural history of northern Canadian exploration in the early twentieth century; it is particularly concerned with questions of truth, expertise, and representation. Reviewing the published and unpublished writings of four explorers (George Douglas, Guy Blanchet, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, and Richard Finnie), she posits the existence of an informal network of exploratory actors who created northern knowledge and shared it amongst themselves, their professional colleagues, and the public. As well as tracing the circulation of this knowledge throughout Canada and the US, Christina attempts to rethink and expand how the ‘explorer’ and ‘exploration’ were defined at that time, and to explain why such identities and activities fell out of favour and practice in the post-1945 North.

Citation: Bocking, Stephen. “Sketching a Political and Environmental History of Science in Northern Canada.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 13 June 2009.
Bio: Stephen Bocking, Environmental & Resource Studies Program, Trent University.
Abstract: I will present some ideas relating to understanding the political and environmental history of science in northern Canada since the 1940s. These ideas are tentative, representing one possible way of thinking about the history of northern science, and I will be eager for advice on how to work with them. Several themes that seem relevant to this history will be mentioned, including the intersection of scientific knowledge and cultural and political views of the north; and also the political history of northern science, particularly in terms of the way that shifting political priorities have been expressed through institutions for science. I will spend the most time surveying implications and questions that flow from viewing northern science in terms of concepts of situated science, with a focus on its material practice, using various examples from the history of the science over the last 60 years. Some of these questions include: how and why scientists (most based in the south) have defined the north as scientifically interesting; how features of the northern environment itself have influenced scientific work; how scientists have placed themselves: as “northern” scientists, or as representatives of disciplines that are mainly defined by scientific communities based in the south; how knowledge has moved in and out of the north; and how the authority of this knowledge has been asserted.

Citation: Loo, Tina. “Why Look at Animals?” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 14 June 2009.
Bio: Tina Loo is a Professor of History at the University of British Columbia.
Abstract: Animals have never been more present in our lives – or more marginal. At the same time that millions of people around the world are looking at them thanks to live streaming video on the internet, their habitats are being degraded and their existence threatened. Watch long enough and the frame will be empty. But it wasn’t always this way. For a long time animals were with us at the centre of the world. They were our first symbols; they guided us through space and time in the form of stars and the constellations that marked the astrological year. The story of how and why animals shaped our lives and came to exist on its edges is the focus of this presentation. Through their “unnatural histories” – the stories of their lives with us – they tell us a great deal about ourselves and what it means to be human.

Citation: Kuliktana, Millie & Emilie Cameron. “Kugluktuk Cultural Exchange, 2008.” Northern Environmental History Workshop. 12 June 2009.
Abstract: This session involved the screening of a video documenting a 2008 Cultural Exchange between Inuit and Dene communities in Kugluktuk, Nunavut. Produced through a collaboration between the Tahiuqtiit Society, a non-profit organization that aims to respond to social, cultural, economic, and political change in the community, and NiCHE, the video provides insight into contemporary relations between Inuit, TliCho, and Sahtu Dene peoples.

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