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Reviewed by:
  • Ice Blink: Navigating Northern Environmental History ed. by Stephen Bocking and Brad Martin
  • Maura Hanrahan
Stephen Bocking and Brad Martin (eds), Ice Blink: Navigating Northern Environmental History (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2017), 532 pp. Paper. $41.95. ISBN 978-1-55238-854-9.

The catchy title of this volume refers to the white glare under clouds that is characteristic of the northern environment. Ice blinks serve as guides in navigation, as the editors explain, and feature in Inuit lore. Ice blinks also 'exemplify the links between people and nature', editor Stephen Bocking writes, with these links now threatened and the north in turmoil, largely due to climate change and its far-reaching impacts. The north is described and explained in this volume, rather than defined; it stretches from the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula to British Columbia and through the territories. And it was– and is–perceived as an empty place, a frontier, and a symbol of pristine nature.

The north is also a site of resource extraction, notably the 'zombie mines' so ably analysed by environmental historian John Sandlos and geographer Arn Keeling, authors of chapter 11. These mines continue their legacy of social and environmental conflicts after they have closed and been abandoned. They often re-open or are remediated. A useful table includes 19 of these mines in Canada's territories, detailing such issues as mercury contamination, radioactive tailings, and zinc in the water. Many are undergoing assessment, remediation, and redevelopment as interest in mining is accelerating globally. As with this one, some chapters provide great insight into conditions and issues in the contemporary north while others explore how we got there. Tina Loo's discussion of the importation of sustainable development policies into the north is one example. Loo identifies the emphasis on technical matters as flawed and the consideration of northern diversity as necessary. Meanwhile, at times the same government officials promoted minimalism and interventionism simultaneously. As Loo points out, the Indigenous north was transformed by colonialism and the market with, of course, the state as a chief actor.

The book includes Emilie Cameron's honest and compelling deliberation on the role of the academic in the north as the region grapples with so many pressing problems. Drawing from the work of James Ferguson, Cameron urges the use of academic skills and resources in advancing the political engagement and struggles of those people most affected by climate change and other worrying external forces. She writes, 'it seems clear that incarcerating arctic climate change to both the local scale and the temporal present [End Page 237] and future renders climate change knowable in very specific terms, terms that demand challenge, revision and re-imagination' (p. 487).

This interdisciplinary book also includes Andrew Stuhl's fascinating treatment of the Canadian Reindeer Project as an experimental and experimentalist attempt to remake the north and Canada's relationship to it. The book aims to portray Indigenous people, notably the Inuit, as active agents in the shaping of the north in the colonial and more recent era. It is somewhat successful in this and certainly makes moves towards it. Work by Inuit and other Indigenous scholars would have bridged the gap. Still, the book is a welcome addition to Arctic studies, environmental history, and Indigenous studies.

Maura Hanrahan
University of Lethbridge


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pp. 237-238
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