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Reviewed by:
  • Gabrielle A. Slowey
Ice Blink: Navigating Northern Environmental History. Stephen Bocking and Brad Martin, eds. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2017. Pp. 532, $41.95 paper

In June 2009, I was invited to Ottawa to participate in 2030 North: A National Planning Conference as a member and representative of the International Polar Year project on the Impacts of Oil and Gas Activity on Peoples in the Arctic Using a Multiple Securities Perspective. At the meeting, I sat at a table of young, newly hired, junior policy analysts working for the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. In our discussions, I asked: "So, when are you going to the Arctic?" One of the bureaucrats responded that, basically, this conference was as close to the Arctic as they were likely going to get. When I further inquired about how they planned to make policy for communities in an area of the country they did not know or had never seen, one keen analyst replied: "Can't we just email them?" This is what political scientist Peter Clancy once termed politics by "remote control" ("Politics by Remote Control: Historical Perspective on Devolution in Canada's North," McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990).

I was reminded of this experience reading Ice Blink because a theme that quickly and consistently emerges in this book is that the history of the Canadian North, its people, and its environment has been largely shaped by people, policies, and interests located in the Canadian South that typically lack any appreciation and knowledge of the unique cultures, climates, and challenges found in the North. More specifically, authors explain how airplane parts that were crafted for northern bush plains in the South to withstand "Arctic conditions" were made without any sense of the actual harshness of northern conditions or how new wildlife regulations were similarly designed based [End Page 846] on the interests of southern versus northern hunters. The common denominator is that, since southerners have taken an active interest in the North, there has been an indelible and largely negative impact left on the landscape and on the people. For instance, as Liza Piper points out, "newcomers increased pressure upon northern resources, often to the point of depletion, while regulation and surveillance introduced in response to some of these new pressures further affected the ability of Indigenous northerners, in particular, to continue their historical harvesting practices" (189).

As a political scientist who studies the connection between energy, extraction, and the environment, I confess that I had not previously read much environmental history. This is an oversight I will not make again. Ice Blink is a timely and important contribution to our general understanding of the North. As the editors explain, ice blinks are "white glare under clouds, indicating light-reflecting ice beyond the horizon" and represent "a distinctive feature of the northern environment" (3). Organized into three sections that are ambiguous in terms of temporal affiliation, it offers a multi-northern perspective (from provincial north to territorial north) on a diverse array of topics including the role of science, aviation, governance, food security, contaminants, and technology, to name but a few. Although the collection includes a few factual errors (Inuit were not legally recognized as Indians until 1939, not 1924 as suggested on page 68), the chapters that are rooted in community engagement offer rich, important, and timely analysis by some of the leading scholars in the field of northern research. Chapters by Paul Nadasdy, Hans Carlson, and Emilie Cameron stand out.

At the same time, ironically, Ice Blink runs the hazard of being accused of perpetuating the same colonial/patriarchal pattern of southern gazing upon the North because none of the contributors are actually located in the North. To be fair, the editors acknowledge that the collection is written by scholars based mainly outside the North itself (x) and that this is further complicated by the absence of any actual university in the North (for now at least). The lack of the inclusion of northern-based scholars per se, and Indigenous scholars specifically, is an unfortunate gap that persists in the literature and one that hopefully will be remedied in the near future. Also absent is gender...


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