- Beyond the Border: Tensions across the Forty-Ninth Parallel in the Great Plains and the Prairies by Kyle Conway and Timothy Pasch
Since 9/11, there has been an increased concern about what had been previously referred to as “the world’s largest undefended border,” the boundary between the United States and Canada. Of course, as the chapters in Kyle Conway and Timothy Pasch’s edited volume Beyond the Border: Tensions across the Forty-Ninth Parallel in the Great Plains and Prairies serve to illuminate, there have always been issues surrounding this border, whether they be cultural, political, or geographic. The events of 9/11 have raised the study of borderlands northward to Canada, although the US-Mexico border, with its attendant immigration and drug issues, will always figure more prominently in the news.
Conway and Pasch parse the issue even further in trying to limit the geographic area studied to the Great Plains–Prairies portion of the two countries. The book is an outgrowth of a 2010 two-day conference that the University of North Dakota Institute for Borderland Studies hosted called “The Great Plains, the Prairies, and the US-Canadian Border,” a meeting that aimed to bring scholarly attention to this frequently ignored area of North America. Of course, even defining the “borders” of the Great Plains–Prairies region is a challenging task.
The editors have chosen to group the chapters into three sections: “The Mediated Border,” “The Political Border,” and “The Native Border.” Within each, they see two meanings. In the first section, the editors define “mediated” both in how the border is produced or reproduced through various discourses, and to a lesser extent, how the media portray issues surrounding the border and US-Canadian relations. In “The Political Border,” the chapters look at how a border separates two entities, but they also look at how this separation leads to contestation and negotiation. Finally, in the third section, “The Native Border,” the chapters address both the border from an indigenous people’s perspective, and also “native” as in “original.”
Just as the border and the geography are vast, the topics covered are far-ranging. Some are more theoretical, others more practical. All offer jumping-off points for further discussion. While all the chapters make important contributions, the most useful are the more concrete ones. “International and Domestic Pressures on the Governance of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers,” by Michelle Morris, takes a look at the relative influence of various governmental, commercial, and other nongovernmental entities in determining water management policy. Paul R. Sando’s chapter on “Water and Political Relations between the Upper Plains States and the Prairie Provinces” is an informative look at the complexity of flood policy when rivers run across international borders, as well as state and provincial ones. Phil Belfry’s “The Anishnaabeg of Bawating” is an excellent study of the history of indigenous people’s claims and how the border that runs through the St. Mary’s River is a “fiction” on several levels—literally, in that a border that runs through a river is fluid and changing, and historically, in that no legislation can override a treaty, and in that several treaties have affirmed the territorial integrity of the Bawating. One of the more enjoyable chapters is Christopher Cwynar’s “The Canadian Sitcom and the Fantasy of National Difference: Little Mosque on the Prairie and English-Canadian Identity.” Using this Canadian sitcom as a lens, Cwynar shows the complexity of Canada’s anxiety over having enough [End Page 92] “Canada-content” television programming, as well as its self-definition as a “mosaic” rather than a “melting pot,” while at the same time exploring urban-rural and generational differences.