My master’s research was deeply focused on how a northern community, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut was adapting to a new mine being developed right outside of town. This mine followed a long history of mining and industrial development in the north. In Rankin Inlet this mining legacy has left behind environmental hazards from the mine tailings, rending the seafood found along the community’s shoreline unsafe to eat. I collected stories of orange dust on the snow, worries about human and environmental health, and ‘sacrifice zones’ where no new development could occur. Mining it seems, has left its mark on Rankin Inlet’s physical landscapes—from the scale of the body to the land. This was the story I weaved as I wrote my master’s: an ever-emerging narrative of uncertain environmental and economic futures in the changing (sub)arctic.
Stories of change are important. The ‘arctic’ has become the central focus for not only arctic states such as Canada and Russia, but increasingly non-artic state focus by Italy, China, and Poland. But little is still known about the people who call the arctic home and what these wider environmental, socio-economic, and geo-political changes mean for their daily livelihoods.
The concept of belonging in the north is always present in the narratives I recorded. Belonging to place, to land, to legacy. It is the ties, the attachments to land, and the stories carried on through generations that make shared place identities. Belonging to the north means caring about sustainable development, and forging life stories through the waves of encounter, destruction, and rebirth.
And we know little of what it means to belong to the north. To commit to living in a harsh and beautiful land. To understand what it means to deal with constantly changing realities. To have Ellen DeGeneres take a selfie at the Oscars and to feel the ripples of destruction throughout the northern seal economies. Understanding what it means to belong in the north, means reordering stories of uncertainty, of change, of adaptation, of encounter, of flows of newcomers. How we understand what it means to belong to the north can only be theorized by paying close attention to the flows of outsiders and insiders co-living in the north and how they both work towards uncertain arctic futures.
To belong to the arctic is to live an uncertain life of constant change. To belong to the arctic is to constantly welcome those who do not belong to build a new resource economy. To belong to the arctic is to redefine what sustainable futures are, as the ice melts. To live a life of change.