Second, most southern Canadians remain unaware of the manner in which the rest of world is now interacting with northern Canadians and coming to the region. Look at any list of scientists that came north during the International Polar Year and it reads like a mini United Nations. Check the background of many of the workers who came to work in the diamond industry and it will be as varied as in any southern Canadian city. The desire of Asian countries such as China, Japan and Singapore to join the Arctic Council shows their desires to participate in the governance systems of all of the North. So it is clear that on an individual, economic and international level, the rest of the world is ‘discovering’ the Canadian North and is willing to make the effort to be there.
Shelagh Grant: This question posed a bit of a conundrum – since, as Rob Huebert pointed out, not all southern Canadians or Europeans possess similar knowledge about the Arctic, which itself differs greatly because of geography and history. Even for those who have visited or worked in the Arctic, their views are directly influenced by their own experience and not reflective of the diversity throughout the circumpolar region. Coffee-table books, TV documentaries, magazines and newspapers have done an admirable job in expanding public knowledge through images and words, yet very few have had the opportunity to visit, let alone live in the Arctic. Even fewer have experienced days on end when the sun never appears on the horizon, as I have. It is a far different world from the High Arctic in summer.
Unfortunately the “out of sight, out of mind” scenario seems to prevail among most southerners, unless faced with some sort of crisis – possibly why a perceived threat to Arctic sovereignty seems to be the only means to gain popular support for the high cost of fulfilling even the most minimal of government responsibilities. Costs are high in the Arctic and the circumpolar region is enormous, as Michael Byers points out. Yet very few southerners understand how and why Russia, as the largest country in the world, is so far advanced in developing its Arctic region, compared to Canada, the second-largest country. Nor do I suspect most even care.
At present, the greatest danger appears to be “the enemy within” – southern apathy. Perhaps a remedy – at least in part – might be to place more emphasis on good-news stories of successful investments to show that taxpayers’ money is well spent, to gain support for further funding. Or perhaps, as Tony Pennikett implies, the influence of the Inuit and First Nations as a result of various forms of self-government in Alaska, Canada and Greenland may be more successful in arousing the socio-political conscience of southern governments and their electors.
Mary Simon has served as Canada’s first ambassador for circumpolar affairs, as president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and as lead negotiator for the creation of the Arctic Council.
Tony Penikett was NDP premier of Yukon from 1985 to 1992, and the Nunavut’s chief devolution negotiator until 2012.
Wade Davis is an anthropologist, ethnobotanist, explorer, photographer, filmmaker and author of 20 books focusing on remote and endangered cultures. He is a member of the University of British Columbia’s anthropology department.
Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at UBC. He is the author of International Law and the Arctic.
Shelagh Grant is the author of Polar Imperative: A History ofArctic Sovereignty in North America and adjunct professor of Canadian studies at Trent University.
John English is the author of Ice and Water: Politics, Peoples and the Arctic Council. He holds academic positions at the University of Waterloo, the Munk School of Global Affairs and Trinity College at the University of Toronto.
Rob Huebert is associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. He has written and researched extensively on Arctic policy and defence issues.