Historical Perspectives on Environmental Knowledge and the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: history, resource development, environmental awareness

Principal Investigator: Stuhl, Andrew T (3)
Licence Number: 15471
Organization: Bucknell University
Licensed Year(s): 2014
Issued: May 27, 2014

Objective(s): To achieve a more nuanced understanding of the place of science and technology in interactions with the Arctic environment since 1970.

Project Description: The primary objective of this research is to achieve a more nuanced understanding of the place of science and technology in interactions with the Arctic environment since 1970. This objective is significant for three reasons. First, it extends and diversifies scholarly knowledge about Arctic history, which has yet to confront the ways in which scientific knowledge and industrial technology have become central to local identities, Inuit economic independence, and environmental management in the Arctic over the last forty years. Second, when combined with scholarship from other regions in the circumpolar basin, this research allows for comparative and transnational studies of the history of pipelines, oil development, and environmental knowledge in the Arctic. Third, and finally, this research provides a counterpoint to common modern conceptions of the Arctic within discussions of climate change, globalization, and sustainable development. Ultimately, this project asserts that modern notions of a “New North”—or, a pristine wilderness only now experiencing the effects of the industrialized world—prevent us from reckoning with northern history and responding attentively to global change in the far north.

Despite the availability of printed and online materials, important sections of Arctic history are only accessible to those living in the Arctic. To explore this history, the Principal Investigator will conduct a series of interviews, visit cultural resource centers in the Western Arctic, and follow news and scientific media relating to the pipeline. Each of these activities will produce a valuable perspective on the place of science and technology in Arctic life. Given that much of this material is not currently published or available to wider public or academic audiences, the research proposed below will help in recording, preserving, and disseminating the knowledge contained in the Arctic about the Arctic.

The method for interviews will combine accepted practices in the discipline of history with the protocols established by research institutions and Hunters and Trappers Committees situated in the Beaufort-Delta region. Recruitment to interviews will follow the “snowball method”: The Principal Investigator will begin with key informants and identify future participants through these initial interviews. Key informants will themselves be identified through previous engagement with residents of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The Principal Investigator has previously lived and researched in Inuvik for two years and will rely on this prior experience to identify scientists, Inuit leaders, business-leaders, and elected officials. They will be asked to speak about their perspectives on scientific knowledge about the environment in relation to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry.

Regional research institutions in the Beaufort-Delta region have established protocols for conducting interviews with northern residents. These protocols include offering both structured and un-structured interviews; following locally agreed-upon guidelines for compensation of time; and maintaining close contact with regional research institutions, cultural resource centers, and Hunters and Trappers Committees. Interviews will be recorded with a hand-held audio recorder and video camera. It is important to local communities to give interviewees the power to choose whether they would like to have their name associated with recorded information, or if they would like to remain anonymous, private, and confidential. Interviews are expected to last between 15 minutes and 2 hours. The Principal Investigator also expects to follow up with all participants to ensure material was recorded properly and accurately, and to ask for any clarifications.

A local Inuit consultant will be involved to serve as a translator. The Principal Investigator has involved local residents in similar research in the past and will draw from these experiences to identify and recruit a consultant on this project.

Interviews provide access to experiences in the Arctic that have not been written down and cannot be properly characterized by governmental documents, scientific reports, or news media. The objective here is not to quantify the opinions and beliefs of certain Inuit communities. Rather, the objective is to obtain information, which can be combined with other sources to explore the human relationship with the Arctic environment since the 1970s. Of specific interest will be the interactions between science and a host of other themes, including sovereignty, justice, economic development, and environmental protection in the Arctic. Data from interviews will show the range of local responses to and engagement with the pipeline process since the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry.

This research is historical with specific interest in how scientists and residents of the Beaufort-Delta region worked together (or separately) to share knowledge about the Arctic environment during the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry in the 1970s. While one can learn much from printed records, there is a wonderful opportunity to learn from residents. Residents know history differently than the printed record. The Principal Investigator plans to hold a community gathering/feast to share research results--either at Ingamo Hall, East Three, or Aurora College. The gatherings offer an opportunity to give comment on how the research is going, and give feedback on if it is accurate or representative. There are different kinds of benefits associated with these different forms of involvement, and am certainly open to ideas on how to better involve local communities and organizations.

The Principal Investigator will return in the future to share more results from this research with the community. There is also a hard-copy of the Ph.D. thesis to share with the community and can store that either at Aurora College, Aurora Research Institute, Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, or the town library. Visiting a local classroom is a wonderful idea The Principal Investigator regularly presents research at academic conferences and would love feedback on how best to showcase local involvement with this research at those conferences.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from May 28, 2014 to May 30, 2014.