[Contested Arctic: Indigenous Peoples, Industrial States, & the Circumpolar Environment]

Article excerpt

You cannot read this book without digesting the message that the Arctic is indeed the frontier of contemporary colonialism. The controlling gaze may have shifted focus somewhat, but the inspecting and regulating of people and animals persists in the historical space of today's "contested Arctic."

Most of the papers in this edited volume were presented in 1996 at a one-day interdisciplinary symposium on human-environmental interaction in the circumpolar north. A first glance at the table of contents might suggest an imbalance of geographic areas because, of the six papers, three address problems of pollution in the Russian North -- though one of these compares Natives in northwest Siberia and northern Alberta (Aileen Espiritu). Since the opening up of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, the West had much to learn -- and Russia is evidently ready and willing to tell. This book excels in accomplishing its goal of illuminating intersections of "industrial pollution, Arctic ecosystems, national ambitions, and indigenous cultures."

In his introduction, Eric Alden Smith provides us with a succinct discussion of the historical beginnings of ecological degradation (colonial style) as well as current global environmental problems across the circumpolar north. Appropriately, the first chapter in the volume is written from an emic point of view. Charles Johnson reminds us that Native people are active participants in the Arctic ecosystem and are greatly concerned about effects of global warming and Arctic environmental contamination by organochlorines and heavy metals; he argues that these problems can be related to a decline in the physical and social health of circumpolar peoples. In Craig ZumBrunnen's account of the Russian North, significant health problems have been demonstrated in 28 of the 29 cities which have significant chemical industry pollution related specifically to the defence sector. There, the legacy of harmful industrial processing (including mining) gives little reason for optimism as the problems in Russia are now quite serious. In fact, only 15% of Russia's population reside in areas where the ambient air quality meets health standards. Conspicuously, the Arctic metropolis of Noril'sk is deemed to be the city in all of Russia with the most contaminated air.

Cultural conflict following resource extraction from the Arctic's "storehouse of wealth" is discussed in two additional papers (by Fondahl and Espiritu) which address problems common to Indigenous peoples in the Russian and the Canadian North. The fragility of the Arctic ecosystem is generally downplayed by the developers (or should we say, destroyers) whose manoeuvres engender losses of various kinds to Northern Native peoples. …