May 10, 2019
This week it's chaos at the Arctic Council, Canadian soldiers head north, Inuit tell Facebook to #FreeTheUlu, and building a bridge over the Bering Sea.
A member of Charles Company from 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (1RCR) deployed on Operation NANOOK-NUNALIVUT 19 participates in an austere runway training near Resolute Bay, NU on March 28, 2019.  Photo: Avr Jérôme J.X. Lessard


The new issue of Up Here Business is out this week with feature stories on smart investment in Northern infrastructure, Inuvik’s starry-eyed bet on satellite business, and a critical impasse for Arctic aviation. That’s fellow senior editor Jeremy Warren pictured below, making his debut as a cover model.

I’m attempting to reach all past editors and regular freelance writers for the magazine as part of our 35th-anniversary celebrations this September. Secret project type of thing. I know a few former writers are subscribers to this newsletter, so if you know anyone and could pass along their current contact information that would be greatly appreciated! 

As always, thanks for reading,
Jacob Boon



It’s not quite a cold war but things are getting chilly in the world of circumpolar politics. Blame U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who this week blew up (figuratively) the Arctic Council’s normally consensus-based ministerial meetings with the Trump administration’s trademark bluster. Pompeo criticized Russia’s Northern military build-up and China’s increased interest (see below) in the Arctic as dangers to American security. He also challenged Canada’s claim over the Northwest Passage, calling it “illegitimate.” (The Guardian)

Back in the ‘80s president Ronald Reagan and prime minister Brian Mulroney came together like good neighbours to agree the passage was an international waterway that Canada was nonetheless allowed to call part of our territory. But now there’s
money to be made, so all that sharing and caring nonsense is out the window. A “stunning rebuke” of the 1988 Arctic Co-Operating agreement says the guy who runs the international security program at Waterloo’s Centre for International Governance Innovation. “If they are worried about a growing Chinese and Russian presence in the North and aspirations to create a circumpolar Silk Road, they might want to work more closely with their NORAD partner and refrain from challenging our sovereignty," Fen Hampson tells the Canadian Press. “This isn't the time to be throwing snowballs.” (Canadian Press)

If the party wasn’t already ruined, Pompeo also blocked a customary joint declaration from members at the end of the conference because it contained references to climate change. The chair had to issue a personal declaration instead. This is the first time this has happened in the forum’s 23-year history. A moral failure, and a “
serious blow to the future of what is supposed to be a consensus-based body” responded the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Embarrassing, a major disappointment, a failure America holds the blame for, said Norwegian MP Erik Sivertsen. Very likely, as tempers increase, also a sign of things to come. (High North News)
In related future war news, Canada’s troops are learning how to operate in the frozen North “after two decades of war in the desert.” Foreign Policy magazine looks to the Armed Forces’ recent training excursion in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. Apparently fighting a forever war on warm foreign soil has caused Canada’s cold soldiering skills to atrophy. “For nearly two decades, Canada’s army has been fighting alongside the United States in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East and Afghanistan. Many of its soldiers have little idea how to operate in the punishing, far-reaching corners of their own home.” The green “camouflage” parkas will also probably need to be replaced before Russia invades. (Foreign Policy)

This next one is disgusting so you might want to just skip ahead if you have an aversion to ticks. Last chance. Seriously. Still here? Investigative journalist Mary Beth Pfeiffer has a couple examples of climate change impacting Northern ecosystems. Fur starters, snowshoe hares have evolved to shed their summer coats in time with the white winter weather. But that weather is arriving later and later every year. Researched in 2016 found the survival rate for Yukon’s hare population dropped seven per cent due to standing out like a big white marshmallow. Pfeiffer goes on to describe how climate change is likewise swelling tick populations—no longer killed in droves by cold winters—creating a devastating and disgusting impact on larger wildlife. “When the moose lie in the snow, they leave carpets of blood from engorged ticks. When a baby moose emerges from the womb in Minnesota, a band of thirsty ticks moves from mother to neonate.” I’m sorry, you should have just skipped to the next item. While more of a problem further south, warning signs (and warming times) say the ticks will increasingly head North. (Aeon)

Tanya Tagaq was profiled on 60 Minutes and it’s largely celebratory; praising the Inuk artist’s powerful vocal performances. There’s some uncomfortable cushioning of Inuit throat-singing, though. “Stick with us here,” warns correspondent Jon Wertheim about Tagaq’s sound. “She’ll be the first to tell you, it’s not easy listening.” It’s almost like the CBS news program was anticipating the trolls coming out to define what is and isn’t music. Anyway, the bigger question mark is probably Wertheim’s comment that “Nunavut is home to 40,000 Inuit, or Inuk people” who’ve lived off the land “since migrating east from across the Bering Strait, 1,000 years ago.” An awkwardly worded sentence that suggests the Inuit only arrived in Alaska a millennium past. Wertheim is probably referring to the Thule culture, which displaced the Dorset culture starting in Alaska around 1,000 AD. Thule are generally considered the ancestors of modern Inuit. So, not entirely wrong. Not the full picture, either.
The Government of the Northwest Territories still has no idea what to do with Yellowknife’s abandoned visitor centre. The building has been sinking bit by bit for decades even before it was closed to visitors in 2017. The GNWT spent $125,000 last spring to stabilize the literal money pit and another $75,000 on a recent architectural tender for redeveloping the centre. A winner was chosen three months ago but still hasn’t been announced. (CBC)

Kenneth Ingniqjuk Mackay keeps getting his ulu content removed by Facebook. The social media giant’s algorithm misidentifies the traditional tool as a weapon. In response, the “Urban Inuk Art” crafter took to Twitter to show off some of his ulu’s versatile kitchen uses (the rock-and-roll cucumber slicing is particularly impressive). The ulu posts so far appear to still be banned by a company that has no problem with NRA ads. The ulu knife was traditionally used by women for everything from cutting meat to shearing skins for clothing. Nowadays it’s also an important symbol for reclaiming cultural practices eroded by colonization, tweets ᐄᒥ ᓇᔪᒻᒥᐊᓗᒃ.

Whitehorse is hosting the Aboriginal Hockey Championships this week. Hundreds of Indigenous athletes arrived to drums, singing, and smudging. It’s the first time the annual tournament, now in its 17th year, has come North of 60. Shoutout to the North’s men’s team, who picked up a big 4-3 win over Ontario. The tournament finals take place this weekend, and all the games can be streamed live right here.

Every now and then we share some archival photos of Northern life on Up Here’s social media channels and I’m always delighted when the photo subject’s grandkids or extended family show up in the comments. It’s a wholesome example of the North’s interconnected communities. Likewise, this story from CBC about journalist Jordan Konek’s grandmother is heartwarming. Helen Konek was photographed in the 1940s as part of Richard Harrington’s collection on Arctic life (now part of the National Archives). The archival pic Jordan shared on Twitter of his grandmother has since gone viral, to the delight of Helen, now 87, who lives in Arviat. “Oh my! I am so happy,” she tells CBC. “That is amazing!” (CBC)


Viruses in Arctic waters play a key role in combatting climate change. A three-and-a-half-year study found Northern waters are home to almost 200,000 different viral species. The majority are bacteriophages, harmless to humans but hungry for ocean bacteria, which in turn stops carbon from moving further up the food chain. The finding is at odds with traditional views that biodiversity is greatest at the equator and decreases towards the poles. (High North News)

Skagway, Alaska, home of about 1,000 residents, will welcome somewhere around 1 million cruise ship passengers this year. The number isn't credited to anyone but Mayor Andrew Cremata, who tells CBC the town’s economy at this point is “99 per cent cruise ship industry.” That can’t be sustainable in the slightest, right? Well, Cremata estimates the number of cruise ship visitors will grow to 1.5 million within 10 years. Skagway is hoping the Yukon will chip in to improve tourism infrastructure (and get some of those cruise ship visitors out on day trips to the territory). (CBC)

Narwhals, much like the Royal Family, have shockingly low genetic diversity. Strange, says scientists, given their adeptness at long-term survival (the narwhals, that is). Danish researchers say the toothed whales have “incredibly low genetic variation” compared to other mammals. It’s surprising because normally that diversity is what allows a species to adapt to sudden environmental changes. Despite the shallow gene pool, the population of Arctic narwhals has remained exceptionally stable, even increased, since the last Ice Age. (Futurity)
The United Nations has issued the latest report on just how close everything is to extinction. Imminently, it turns out. Over 1 million species of plants and animals are hurtling towards oblivion due to human-caused climate change. The implications threaten humanity’s food security, water, health and the social fabric of society. Thomas Lovejoy, the former NASA official and “godfather of biodiversity” who headed the research team behind the analysis, says this is our “last chance” to address this global murder/suicide. (APTN)

writes the Animal Kingdom, in response. “We’ve always been pretty chill with what you guys are doing, so don’t worry, it’s totally cool. A flourishing ecosystem that supports all of Earth’s creatures isn’t going to be everyone’s thing.” (The Onion)

China’s increased Arctic interests means the traditional boundaries between science, commerce, and the military are melting as fast as sea ice, says Wired. Though some 900 miles from the Arctic, China has “observer status” with the Arctic Council and has opened research stations in Iceland, Norway, and Russia. Those scientific endeavours are happening the same time China puts its money into Northern mining and resource development projects, causing the freak-out above from Mr. Pompeo. (Wired)

Russia is only 51 miles from Alaska. Why not bridge the distance? Beringia used to connect the two and even now the route freezes enough in the winter for dog sleds and intrepid off-roaders to cross. Engineering wise, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge to connect Russia and the U.S. over the Bering Strait. But as this video from Boing Boing illustrates, it will never, ever happen. (Boing Boing)
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