Politics — February 25, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Visiting scholar urges college students to break the ‘sovereignty crisis’ mindset

Whitney Lackenbauer says he hopes Northerners take the lead in correcting “crisis” perceptions of Arctic sovereignty.

Photo: courtesy of Whitney Lackenbauer

Whitney Lackenbauer says he hopes Northerners take the lead in correcting “crisis” perceptions of Arctic sovereignty.

Aurora College students in Fort Smith were given a challenge by one of Canada’s foremost Canadian circumpolar historians: Set the country straight on Northern sovereignty.

Whitney Lackenbauer, a history professor at the University of Waterloo, was in the NWT last week to launch his latest book, The Canadian Rangers: A Living History in Yellowknife. The author’s visit included a stop in Fort Smith where he held several lectures for students at Aurora College’s Thebacha campus.

During Lackenbauer’s lecture on Northern Canadian sovereignty on Wednesday, which chronicled Canada’s historical interest in the North, he urged students to be the force that breaks the cycle of government interest waxing and waning in the North.

“I hope all of you will be in the forefront of making sure we don’t allow southern Canadians to get caught up in that sovereignty crisis mindset that, when the crisis doesn’t come true, people just forget about the North,” he told the class.

Canadian understanding of sovereignty needs to move away from the vision of an Arctic military threat that has coloured the media in the last several years to rest on the people who occupy the land, Lackenbauer said.

“You hold Canada accountable in being partners with you to make sure that the potential of your communities is being realized. That’s a huge challenge and it’s a very scary challenge, but it’s going to allow us to break out of that history of southerners getting interested and really worried and then forgetting about you,” he said.

Lackenbauer is among those scholars arguing that Canada does not face a military threat in the North. While it’s evident the Canadian military is building up its Northern capacity, it’s not to invade, he said.

“Every country is responsible to defend itself, but that doesn’t mean that you are going to use that to attack others,” Lackenbauer said.

Under Stephen Harper’s administration, the Canadian government’s stance on the North began with a “use it or lose it” hard military stance, but has changed over time to include infrastructure and development, he said.

In the last federal budget announced two weeks ago, the Harper government pledged $90 million for “asserting Canada’s sovereignty” in the North, including economic development, infrastructure and health funding.

While funding is important, it’s up to Northerners to make sure the governments, federal and territorial, invest in ways that address social issues and capacity concerns, Lackenbauer told the class.

“You all have an essential role to play in making sure Northerners are able to seize these opportunities,” he said.

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