Does Canada see the north as a colony?

2010-02-15

in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment

Writing in The Globe and Mail, Doug Sanders makes the interesting and probably not inaccurate observation that Canada treats the far north like a colony:

We own the Arctic but, unlike most of our northern neighbours, we are not Arctic. Rovaniemi is a serious city of 60,000 people, with a major university, a large airport and important ties to the mainstream of Finnish life. Like the Arctic cities of Tromso, Norway (60,000) and Murmansk, Russia (325,000), it’s a major centre of business, learning and tourism.

So when Canada tried to impress the world’s finance ministers and media with its Arctic identity by holding a summit in Iqaluit, a remote and somewhat inaccessible town of 7,000 just below the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, it didn’t completely work. “It looked like the Canadians had just arrived there – they didn’t seem to know the place any better than we did,” one European official told me.

What those leaders realized, and what Canadians instinctively know, is that we relate to the Arctic not as a part of our identity or culture or traditional economy, but as a foreign, faraway land we happen to control. The Far North is, in short, our colony.

To me, it does seem plausible that both Canadian decision-makers and the Canadian public at large see the north through the twin lenses of romance about the place and excited anticipation about what good things we are going to be able to do with it, once that ice is less of a problem and we can get at the shipping routes and fossil fuel resources.

The profound transformation of the Arctic is now all-but-inevitable, probably to an extent that few people realize. It will be interesting to see whether the inhabitants start taking a stronger and more visible stance once it becomes inescapably obvious that the whole region is being transformed, or whether they will just take that as a given and start scrambling for a share of oil and gas revenues.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

magictofu February 15, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I think the fact that the federal government is emphasizing the need to demonstrate Canadian sovereignty in the North is telling.

Do Canadians feel the same need to demonstrate Canadian sovereignty in the South? No, most already assume that it is obviously Canadian.

Tristan February 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I think emphasizing the language of colonization with respect to large tracts of first nations territory, which all of a sudden become of concern when resources become accessible, is important.

A great victory for “civilization” would be simply holding our state to its own logic of property.

What is interesting about the north is precisely that it is still treated in a 19th century colonial style. The extent to which we are able to oppose this is the extent to which we are seriously critical of 19th century imperialism. The extent to which we can’t/won’t/don’t is the extent to which we are hypocritcs/our moralizing talk about the past is empty.

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