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About this book

This book approaches the challenges the Arctic has faced and is facing through a lens of opportunity. Through pinpointed examples from and dealing with the Circumpolar North, the Arctic is depicted as a region where people and peoples have managed to endure despite significant challenges at hand. This book treats the ‘Arctic of disasters’ as an innovated narrative and asks how the ‘disaster pieces’ of Arctic discourse interact with the ability of Arctic peoples, communities and regions to counter disaster, adversity, and doom. While not neglecting the scientifically established challenges associated with climate change and other (potentially) disastrous processes in the north, this book calls for a paradigm shift from perceiving the ‘Arctic of disasters’ to an ‘Arctic of triumph’. Particular attention is therefore given to selected Arctic achievements that underline ‘triumphant’ developments in the north, even when Arctic triumph and disaster intersect.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. A Light at the End of the Arctic Tunnel? Introducing a Triumphant Discourse on Arctic Scholarship

When looking at the current state of affairs and the developments in the Arctic, one might quickly give in to the increasingly negative discourse on the Arctic’s future. And given the role of the Arctic in the globe’s climatic system, the Earth’s future looks bleak. But all is not lost. With every disaster comes also triumph – a characteristic that this book attempts to highlight. From indigenous rights to triumphant geopolitics; from forced resettlement as the source of a northern home to increased efforts to protect the Arctic’s cultural heritage; or from increased disaster reduction and response to on-the-ground cooperation between the US and Russia - the triumphant stories in the North are manifold, providing a silver lining in a world of Arctic disaster.
Nikolas Sellheim, Yulia V. Zaika, Ilan Kelman

Narrating Arctic Indigenous Fantasies


Chapter 2. Narrating Indigeneity in the Arctic: Scripts of Disaster Resilience Versus the Poetics of Autonomy

The capacity to inhabit and cope with living in disastrous environments is what social scientists widely label resilience. It is a capacity that peoples inhabiting the Arctic are especially renown for, and one that is attributed in particular to indigenous peoples living here. Indeed policy makers, concerned as they currently are with attempting to formulate policies designed to help people cope with the coming era of disasters portended by climate change, are attracted to indigenous peoples of the Arctic on account of their perceived abilities to live in a state of permanent disaster. The ability to adapt to disastrous events is seen to be the key component of the life-worlds of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, such as the Eurasian Sámi people, which inhabits Arctic Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and the resilience of the Sámi is said to be a living testimony of their strength. Within the Academy, anthropologists are currently being mobilised to provide ethnographic studies of the practices and forms of knowledge that enable the Sámi to do so. As such the Sámi are held to be a model for the rest of humanity, faced as it is with a coming era of climate disasters and global ecological catastrophe. Rather than join in with the chorus of celebration concerning Sámi resilience in the Arctic, this chapter will critique the strategic and colonial rationalities shaping it. Knowledge around resilience, concerned as it might seem to be with promoting the rights and empowerment of the Sámi, is constitutive of processes for the production and disciplining of their indigeneity, rather than being simply a deep ethnographic description. This disciplining of the Sámi, as well as every other target population in the Arctic, by proponents of resilience, forces them into accepting the necessity of a future laden by disastrous events. As such this chapter urges critical thinkers and practitioners concerned with indigenous politics in the Arctic to be more circumspect when confronting claims about the inherent resilience of indigenous peoples living here. It argues for the necessity of examining resilience as an element within a narrative strategy for the scripting of the Arctic and the life-worlds of indigenous peoples inhabiting it, rather than an expression of the agency of indigenous peoples as such.
Julian Reid

Chapter 3. European Fantasy of the Arctic Region and the Rise of Indigenous Sámi Voices in the Global Arena

In 325 BC the great Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia travelled in the north of Scandinavia and wrote about the place where the sun never goes to sleep. His stories told about a sublime territory, cold and harsh, inhabited by an isolated, ‘backwards’ people whose lives were shrouded with mystique. Since then, being so far away from civilisation, an imposed and dominating narrative took form in Europe about the region now called Lapland and the North Calotte. The place also became imagined as a cornucopia: a place of immense richness. In many ways, this narrative still lingers today. With examples from the Finnish context, this article argues that the indigenous peoples of the Arctic are, still centuries after the voyages of Pytheas, the object of a European fantasy. They are framed as guardians of the treasure chest that is the Arctic and as an ancient people of ‘nature’ rather than ‘culture’ and thus doomed to the unpolitical. They are all too rarely given agency. Still today, the states do not listen to their voices. However, the Sámi in the Arctic have today carved out another path to political leverage. They have taken part in the global narrative of indigenous resistance against the conquest and oppression by their states. This article presents examples from the Finnish context, where this global discourse has helped Sámi in Finland to reach the global centres of power in New York and Geneva and gain leverage with the state on land rights issues. Adopting this global discourse however, requires indigenous minorities to adopt a specific narrative of ‘minority-ness’; it requires emphasis on unity and homogeneity and a history of violent conquest, even though the Sámi both historically and contemporarily are more complex and diverse than that. The adoption of this discursive strategy exemplifies the dialectic between disaster and triumph that lies in the core interest of this volume; finding the trail of success through a story of disaster. However, one can still ask on whose terms this current trail is cut out and who it will benefit in the end. Is it the states or the indigenous peoples?
Reetta Toivanen

From Homestead to Homeland


Chapter 4. Cultural Heritage, or How Bad News Can Also Be Good

The material cultural heritage of the High Arctic encompasses evidence of both indigenous and non-indigenous presence all over the area. Indeed, the term “Arctic wilderness” in the popularly-accepted understanding of areas that are untouched by humans, scarcely exists. Humans have left their mark all over the tundra in the form of unnatural stone arrangements that might have been a camping site from a few thousand years ago or a sign to show the way, mounds that indicate a collapsed dwelling site, or piles of animal and fish bones where a small group of families had their village long ago. In areas with no indigenous population, such as the archipelago of Norwegian Svalbard, humans first began their resource-exploiting activities in the early seventeenth century, and successive waves of hunters, explorers, prospectors, scientists and tourists have left behind the ruins and relics that we today consider to be heritage worthy of protection as sources of interest, appreciation and, not least, knowledge into the past.
Climate change is challenging the preservation of the Arctic cultural heritage as coastal erosion and milder, wetter and wilder weather conditions break down what was once protected by a dry and frozen climate. Work to protect and manage the heritage sites can seem as depressing as the stories of diminishing and threatened polar bear populations. However, also here there are several sides to the story and this chapter will present some of the positive results and implications of the climate change scenario on Arctic cultural heritage. These include enhanced understanding of the “population” of heritage sites and thereby of the whole history of the High Arctic, as well as increased international research and cooperation which has brought professionals in Arctic and Antarctic fields closer together.
Susan Barr

Chapter 5. Rehabilitation of the Northern Home: A Multigenerational Pathway

The very beginning of Soviet times was marked by repressive politics of the state, targeting different individuals including prosperous peasants (kulaks). While being rich but hard-working farmers, these families were seen as one of the most important bases for the economic growth of the country. The ‘soft’ collectivisation to consolidate individual land and farms was therefore suggested by state economists and rejected by Stalin. Instead, the expropriation measures and repressive policies (dekulakisation) were largely applied throughout the country, dramatically influencing people’s destinies. A large number of peasant families was relocated to the harsh northern environments in order to build the industrial potential for the country’s prosperity. Later on, subsequent rehabilitation measures undertaken by the post-Stalin government brought little to no relief for the acceptance and understanding of this new Northern home. But this is a changing reality which spreads through several generations.
This chapter is an autoethnography of a member of a family which has been forcibly relocated by the state during early 1930s from Pskov to the Murmansk region. It discusses the development and evolution of identity and the sense of the Northern home through four generations of a single family, from the painful disastrous relocation of great grandparents to the harsh unfriendly Arctic environment, and finally, towards the peaceful triumphant acceptance of the sweet Northern home by their great grandchild.
Yulia V. Zaika

Making Rights Work


Chapter 6. Compensation for Impact of Industrial Projects in Russia to Indigenous Peoples of the North

This chapter that was funded by a grant from Russian Foundation for Basic Research № 17-02-00619 examines procedures for social impact assessment in industrial projects in the Russian Federation (later referred to as Russia), focusing on assessment of impact on ‘small-numbered indigenous peoples of the North’ in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) (later referred to as Yakutia), a region in the north-east of Russia. In April 2010, a regional law on Anthropological Expert Review (AER) was adopted in the region of Yakutia, which is implemented during industrial projects that are initiated on the territories of indigenous peoples of the North. This law was developed under pressure from regional non-governmental organisations, following public debates about potential impacts during the construction of Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean oil pipeline in 2006–2008. This is the first and only regional law on social impact assessment for indigenous peoples in Russia, the potential for which had been discussed in Russia for over 20 years but has never been fully implemented. This regional law on is a triumph of the civil society in Yakutia, which in 2018 has been followed by federal government discussions for opportunities of developing a similar federal level law. The chapter evaluates the effectiveness of existing methodology for compensation to indigenous peoples of the North in Yakutia, by examining the regulation, industry reports and regional development strategies. It examines the cases of completed social impact assessments and damage compensations, conducted during major industrial projects in Yakutia. The study discusses the features and shortcomings of AER methodology and compares it with existing practices on compensations in other Russian regions. It recommends revising the use of income-based calculation of compensations which treats groups of indigenous peoples of the North that lead traditional activities of reindeer herding as commercial enterprises. The research suggests extending the existing methodology by incorporating an ecosystem services approach and taking into account long-term sustainability impacts of industrial projects on communities of indigenous peoples. Special attention is given to the assessment of effectiveness of the Anthropological Expert Review as an institution for protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in Russia.
Tuyara N. Gavrilyeva, Natalia P. Yakovleva, Sardana I. Boyakova, Raisa I. Bochoeva

Chapter 7. The Arctic Council and the Advancement of Indigenous Rights

The Arctic is undoubtedly in crisis. The ice is melting, the tensions between the ‘West’ and Russia are increasing and the Arctic environment is at a crossroads towards unprecedented systemic shift. The picture looks indeed bleak. But amongst these potentially disastrous developments Arctic governance has developed as a triumphant means for advancing indigenous rights, constituting a characteristic of primary importance in a world of increased possibilities for conflict. Especially the Arctic Council as the primary forum for Arctic governance has incorporated elementary aspects of international indigenous rights law into its working procedures. This article examines how the Arctic Council has embedded standards of indigenous rights as a normative basis into its functioning despite its member states struggling with domestic challenges pertaining to indigenous rights. Drawing from primary documentation of the Arctic Council it is shown that within the Arctic Council all member states place equally great emphasis on advancing the wellbeing and rights of Arctic indigenous peoples.
Nikolas Sellheim

Risky Business with a Silver Lining


Chapter 8. Not All Black and White: The Environmental Dimension of Arctic Exploration

The modernist narrative of human progress noticeably shifted under the climate change paradigm, which brought into the Arctic discourse both slow long-term processes resulting in shifting biophysical properties of the entire planet and rapid tipping events and their effects onto its nature and people. While literature abounds with images of mythical opposition between the Arctic nature and the industrial advances of the increasingly resource-dependent world, the lessons learned from the decades of exploration are often taken matter-of-factly. This chapter explores the modern environmental history of polar exploitation and probes for ways in which changing representations of the Arctic environment have shaped our interactions with it. While taking stock of regulatory, political and attitudinal shifts is an important thought experiment, the overall lesson is that the ‘catching-up’, action-before-knowledge approach may not hold up in the future.
Nadia French

Chapter 9. Arctic Disaster Risk Reduction and Response as Triumph?

Disaster risks and disasters are frequent around the Arctic. Hazards range from the usual sudden-onset suspects—such as earthquakes, avalanches, landslides, floods, and meteorites - to long(er)-term or less familiar changes such as climate change impacts, including sea level rise or microbes unleashed by melting permafrost. Simultaneously, the Arctic region has experienced changes to vulnerabilities – especially the growth and development of the energy, shipping, resource extraction, and tourism industries – increasing the potential of further disasters. That is, with more people and infrastructure potentially affected by hazards, disaster risks rise, especially if vulnerabilities are not counteracted or if they are created through unsustainable development practices. However, while much discourse tends to view Arctic populations as passive players experiencing the consequences of environmental hazard influencers, including but not limited to climate change, in reality, Arctic populations have been actively tackling disaster risks and response. This chapter establishes this point by focusing on the region’s existing disaster risk reduction and response (DRR/R) efforts as demonstrated by the wide range of bi- and multilateral cooperative agreements created to contribute to a less vulnerable Arctic. By analysing them in the context of DRR/R, this chapter highlights that, while unique cooperative measures are in place to address disasters when they occur, these efforts are insufficient to manage the dynamic challenges the Arctic is facing. A shift to a focus on reducing disaster vulnerabilities in the first place is as necessary in the Arctic as it is elsewhere.
Patrizia Isabelle Duda, Ilan Kelman

Chapter 10. Triumphant Geopolitics? Making Space of and for Arctic Geopolitics in the Arctic Ocean

This chapter contends that the 2007 Russian flag-planting incident in the North Pole has ushered in a form of triumphant geopolitics insofar as it enabled the renewing of the imaginative and material grip of the five Arctic coastal states (Russia, United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway, A5) on the maritime Arctic. Triumphant geopolitics, in our conceptualisation, is anchored on two separate but inter-related registers. On the one hand, it involves the process of reconciliation and reclamation whereby reactions to the 2007 event provoked the A5 to first reconcile their differences over the legal status of the central Arctic Ocean via the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration before reclaiming the inter-governmental forum of the Arctic Council as a space to regulate and manage other players including Permanent Participants and state observers. On the other hand, it is simultaneously underpinned by expressions of alter-geopolitics, with indigenous peoples and extra-territorial parties challenging the Arctic states’ framings of the region in order to posit alternative geopolitical imaginaries and relationships. Explicating these dimensions thus foreground triumphant geopolitics as a useful optic to pursue the contested imaginaries, materialities and practices at play in the (re)making of Arctic geopolitics at different geographical scales.
Klaus Dodds, Chih Yuan Woon

Chapter 11. Fostering US-Russia Cooperation in the Arctic Through Disaster Diplomacy Efforts

Warming Arctic temperatures raise concerns about emerging disaster risks caused by the increasing levels of resource extraction, maritime shipping, and other development in the region. This chapter illustrates the role of disaster diplomacy in reducing risks and simultaneously fostering peace in the region through cooperation between US and Russian disaster experts. The analysis consisted of an in-depth review of historic and current bilateral cooperation agreements and joint agreements with other Arctic states, and case study analysis of individual US-Russia cooperative efforts in the Bering Strait. The analysis revealed that the two states are already engaged in disaster diplomacy efforts through the Arctic Council agreements. However, bilateral disaster-related collaborations in the Arctic had been ceased after the 2014 friction between Russia and the United States over the conflict in Ukraine and consequent geopolitical tensions in the lower latitudes. The paper illustrates that the mere signing of the Arctic Council binding agreements cannot ensure effective cooperation and coordination among Russia and the United States. To be effective, the agreements should also include cooperation measures that involve all relevant participants – scientists, disaster practitioners, Indigenous and local knowledge holders, policymakers, NGOs, and industry – from both sides. This chapter also illustrates continuous US-Russia cooperation, in spite of geopolitical tensions, as an Arctic Triumph. The ability of US and Russian disaster experts to pursue opportunities to collaborate on the mutual goal of disaster risk reduction and find solutions to common challenges in the times of restrictions on bilateral contacts is triumphant.
Yekaterina Y. Kontar


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