Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Canada Needs An Arctic University

Lost amid the bru-ha-ha over the Governor-General eating seal meat in Rankin Inlet during her recent visit was another story. One that really is deserving of more attention than it got from the media. (I mean really, I had chocolate-covered almonds last night but THAT didn't make the news - as it shouldn't. Just as the G-G eating seal meat was an non-news item as well.) A much more important issue is that of creating an arctic university here in Canada. The Governor-General was in Nunavut to advocate for the creation of one. Unfortunately, I have the feeling it didn't get as much attention in the corridors of power as it really should. And really, there is no excuse for Canada not to have an arctic university. When you consider just how much of Canada is in the Arctic and how much land mass Canada takes up in the circumpolar world AND that Canada is the ONLY circumpolar nation NOT to have an arctic university, there really is no excuse.

It's refreshing to see our 3 northern colleges leading the push in this regard. So often it seems that "the South" dictates a lot of what happens here in terms of policy, quotas, development etc.. It would be really nice to see a university by, for and of the Arctic. Sure, Canada is a member nation of the University of the Arctic, but let's not stop with that.

Rather than simply building ice breakers and arctic training bases, let's tap into the wealth of human knowledge we have here in the North. We already attract hordes of scientists and plans are in the works for an Arctic research station to be set up in the future in either Resolute, Cambridge Bay or nearby Pond Inlet. This could all be tied into a future university for Canada's North. Mapping the Arctic sea bed? Making a claim for sovereignty over the Northwest Passage? Providing opportunities for Northerners to future their education? Tapping into the rich cultural knowledge of our Northern elders? An arctic university could go a long way toward promoting all of these things. If the federal government is truly serious about helping to fulfill the land claim agreement rather than treating Nunavut like the retarded little brother of Confederation (which so often seems to be the case to me), a university would go a long way toward creating an educated and productive workforce, benefitting all Northerners.

As one who came to Nunavut 6 years ago to teach, I can sincerely say that Nunavut, and the North, have taught me many more things in return. An Arctic university for Canada, in whatever form that may take, is something well past due. There is much to be shared and learned between cultures. Let's tap into this rich resource. It will truly help to make the "true North strong and free" as our national anthem goes. And Canada as a whole will truly be the better for it.


That is the chicken said...

Makes sense to me! I was listening to the article on CBC radio today about graduation rates in the North..very interesting. Maybe if there was an Arctic university with relevant studies young people would have more to aim for.

Gen said...

Here here!
Every summer, hundreds of academics and graduate students come up to "study the North". I'd like to see science (and that includes social science) done by people who actually live here!

Anonymous said...

As an Inuk and student at UArctic I agree. Let the northern colleges lead...but there efforts must include other regions in Canada (not just Yukon, NWT, Nunavut)...my "north circumpolar world" also includes Nunavik and Nunatsiavut. We need to make a shift in the powerbase, we definately need a university, we need our people trained in science (as well as the social sciences)...imagine what could be accomplished with research questions being poised by Inuit? Individuals with an intimate knowledge of methodologies, research process, and ability to access Traditional Knowledge in a meaningful way? This is such a powerful thought! My heart skips a beat when I think about the "north south divide" as academics like to say and the bridges that could be built through education!! I'm not against southern academic institutions creating linkages to the north or our institutions, I'm just weary of empty objectives driven by powerful institutions that have no genuine basis in the north other than a wish to maintain their own piece of the arctic pie.

Way Way Up said...

I couldn't agree more, anonymous. One point I neglected to mention in my post was that although there is a lot of work being done on various projects and initiates to document and gather traditional knowledge, a university would provide a vessel whereby all this could be centralized in one place and be more easily accessible to everyone. I say this as a qallunaat who has spent the bulk of his time in Nunavut in smaller, de-centralized communities where access to this rich resource is a little more of a challenge to access.

Also, I think that an Canadian arctic university bestowing honourary degrees on elders in recognition for their knowledge would be a wonderful way of instilling pride and respect in northern youth. I believe some southern institutions already do this, but if not, they really should. An honourary degree coming from a truly Arctic institution would be much more meaningful and relevant.

Lorne Marr said...

Very nicely said GEN, lets stop wasting money and funds on sending people to study the arctic when you can build a college there which could be aimed at studying it right there, by the people who have lived and experienced their whole life in there. I am definitely for this great idea!

Take care, Lorne

Anonymous said...

Thank you Way-way Up, I really appreciate your perspective and supporting the concept - I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the inclusion of Elders in research and how that could be done. It amazes me sometimes the wealth of knowledge that exists that somehow doesn't have the same "weight" as the knowledge of a peer reviewed and published researcher.