Big Ideas: A Canadian Arctic University
Governor General Michaelle Jean was in the news today for eating a raw seal heart, but there was an earlier story about her current trip to Canada’s Arctic that I found even more intriguing:
OTTAWA – Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean is making a rare break from ceremonial circumspection to publicly urge the government to build a university for Canada’s Inuit.
In a vice-regal plunge into policy advocacy, Jean proposes a university in the Arctic so Inuit youth can get a degree close to home and benefit from economic activity expected in their region.
Canada’s claims to sovereignty over the North will be, she says, nothing but an “empty shell” unless the area’s inhabitants participate in northern development.
The Governor General has begun promoting the idea with government officials, and sources say they expect her to raise it with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Jean was inspired by an experiment in Norway and plans to use what could be her final year in office – and her time after leaving Rideau Hall – to champion the idea that Canada can do it too.
What I found most interesting about this idea is that I’ve heard it before – from Jean’s predecessor’s husband, John Ralston Saul. In his new book, “A Fair Country”, he proposes the idea of an Arctic University being exactly the sort of big, original policy idea that Canadian governments used to pursue, and goes on at length about all the potential benefits.
Jean says that she got her inspiration from a visit to the University of Tromsø in Norway – the northernmost University in the world at 69°N (by comparison, Yellowknife NWT sits at 62°). I can see why – it’s a beautiful city and a beautiful campus that has attracted students and residents from around the globe.
It has always seemed to me that Norway and other Scandinavian countries have been far more successful in integrating their Arctic regions and the people who live there into their nations, their economies and (to a lesser extent) their societies. We, on the other hand, never seem to have really accepted our Arctic as anything more than a barren, forbidding, alien wilderness to be exploited for its resources. It’s as if the 60th parallel represents a psychological frontier between nation and colony.
Perhaps a university could help breach that frontier.
(H/T to Cam Holmstrom)