Why Arctic research?

Why Arctic research? McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 5, 2000 - Volume 33 Number 03
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Why Arctic research?


A report released recently by a task force created by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, urges the government to take steps to rebuild Canadian northern research.

The report calls for new partnerships between universities and northern communities and for the direct involvement of Northerners in research and training.

Once a powerhouse in northern research, Canada has seen its dominant position slip away in recent years. A lack of government funding and rising research costs are identified as the chief culprits.

The report notes that Northerners face a variety of pressing concerns that cry out for the sorts of answers that good research can provide -- climate change, rapid population growth (Nunavut's population is expected to double within 20 years), pollution and a myriad of social, health and educational issues.

"We no longer have the effective research presence in the North that we need to help safeguard this unique and sensitive environment," says task force chair Tom Hutchinson from Trent University.

The report calls for the creation of 24 research chairs dedicated to northern issues at universities throughout Canada, the establishment of 40 northern graduate scholarships and 40 postdoctoral fellowships related to northern themes, and a program to support 70 new multidisciplinary research projects related to social, industrial or environmental concerns in the Canadian North.

English professor Marianne Stenbaek, the former president of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies, shares her thoughts on the report's conclusions.

The report released by SSHRC and NSERC is very aptly entitled "A Crisis in Northern Research."

There can be no doubt that there is a real crisis, because of the lack of young researchers who are willing to undertake northern/Arctic research. It is expensive and the funding in Canada tends to be quite limited, more so than in the other circumpolar countries.

Canada also has very stringent rules for the carrying out of research in the North, which sometimes scares researchers away if they are looking for quick action. Though these rules are based on common sense and can easily be met, however, if you are a young graduate student needing to do a reasonably quick research project for your graduate degree, the North sometimes seems forbidding and long-term.

What a shame that is, what a shame that the sense of excitement about northern/Arctic research seems to be almost dead in many universities for northern research should be of utmost importance in a country where at least half the country may be classified as "northern."

At a time when the interaction of native and non-native peoples, with its attendant constitutional questions, may well start to overshadow the French-English problems as our main national concern, the North can afford very special and crucial research opportunities.

The Canadian North also affords a unique opportunity to work closely together with indigenous peoples in a common pursuit; a situation where both sides may have much to offer and which can result in some extraordinary research.

Northern/Arctic research occupies a place of great importance in other northern/Arctic nations such as Norway, Denmark, Finland, the U.S. and Russia where it receives substantial funding, because it is only in Canada that funding and research opportunities have declined consistently over the last 10 to 15 years.

This is even more surprising and unfortunate because many of the great contemporary research opportunities both in the physical and human sciences, at the national and international levels, benefit from or include northern research.

Some of the research can indeed not be done without a northern component. Northern research is important in areas such as climate change, sustainable development, environmental degradation and security, cultural diversity -- just to name a few.

On the human , political and legal side, Canada offers research opportunities that are unavailable in other countries and which could contribute significantly to national and international human and social sciences.

For example, there are the research opportunities afforded by the recent establishment of Nunavut and the structure of Nunavik, the legal and constitutional aspects of the native and non-native interaction in the North, the development of exciting models of community telecommunications in the North, the cultural and linguistic uniqueness of the North and its peoples, as well as new forms of economic development. Canada has a very significant and exciting role to play in all of these areas.

Northern/Arctic research is important for our national interests and for our international prestige.

The report "A Crisis in Northern Research" recommends some important steps that we can take to fund new and exciting projects in northern/Arctic research.

What is harder to generate is the excitement that so many researchers used to have about the North, but Canada still has enough of them in southern-based universities and many new native and non-native researchers in the North that, given new opportunities to fund research and get researchers into the field, the excitement will return and should return.

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