Arctic Symposium Speakers


Robert Park

Prof. Robert Park
Professor of Anthropology and Associate Dean of Arts
University of Waterloo

Explorers on Ice: The Last Mysteries of Sir John Franklin’s Third Arctic Expedition

Prof. Robert W. Park

For centuries the challenge of finding a navigable sea route through the ice of the Canadian Arctic drew European explorers into that daunting region, and in the 1840s those attempts culminated in the catastrophic loss of Sir John Franklin’s third expedition. Almost continuously since then, people have been attempting to understand why and how this unprecedented disaster occurred. This presentation will describe how Inuit testimony and recent archaeological investigations have contributed to our understanding of the lives and deaths of some of these explorers.

For four decades I have participated in archaeological fieldwork in Southern Ontario, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and especially Nunavut. Most of my own research over that period has been into the Inuit of Canada’s Arctic, exploring the development of their way of life over the past five thousand years. However, I’ve also been involved in research studying the early European exploration of that region from the 1800s through the 1930s. I’ve been on the fringes of research into the famous third Franklin expedition for many years but my participation in the current search goes back to its beginning in 2008. Since then I’ve been assisting the Nunavut Government in the land-based component of the archaeological research.

Ian Stirling

Dr. Ian Stirling
Canadian Wildlife Service and University of Alberta

The Natural History of Polar Bears and the Threat of Climate Warming

Dr. Ian Stirling

The talk will describe aspects of the natural history of polar bears and their relationships with their marine mammal prey to illustrate why they are dependent on sea ice as a platform to hunt from. Climate warming is causing significant changes to the distribution and availability of sea ice at critical times of the year for hunting. Significant negative effects of the loss of ice polar bears, and on the seals they depend upon, have been documented in Western Hudson Bay and the Southern Beaufort Sea in Canada. Some similar effects are also being documented in Svalbard and will follow in other populations if climate warming continues as is currently predicted.

Dr. Ian Stirling is an Emeritus Research Scientist with the Wildlife Research Division of Environment Canada and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton. He has done research on polar bears and polar ice-breeding seals throughout the Canadian Arctic and in Antarctica for 50 years. He participates in a number of national and international committees on polar bears and marine mammals and has authored or co-authored over 250 scientific articles and 5 books on bears for the general public. For his work, he has won several awards, including the Weston Foundation Annual Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research, been made an Officer in the Order of Canada, and elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Shelagh Grant

Prof. Shelagh Grant
Trent University

Arctic Sovereignty and the Relevance of History

Prof. Shelagh Grant

Current discussions about Arctic sovereignty too often ignore or discount the relevance of history. Yet there are sufficient similarities to the past that warrant closer examination of circumstances which made Arctic coastal countries vulnerable to loss of their sovereign rights and in turn, led to changes in international law, governance and occasionally, ownership. Key factors influencing changes in the past are also present today, including shifts in world power, increased competition for Arctic resources, technological advances, economic adversity, and last but not least, abrupt changes in the extent of sea ice. History also reveals that the greatest threat to the sovereign rights of Arctic coastal countries was a potential loss of control over the adjacent waters and sea routes. This paper will highlight the historical factors that threatened Arctic sovereignty and their relevance to the current situation.

Prof. Shelagh Grant is the author of two award winning books: Arctic Justice: On Trial for Murder, Pond Inlet – 1923 and more recently, Polar Imperative: A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America. Now retired after 19 years teaching part time at Trent University, she still gives guest lectures and assists graduate students in their research.

Her research involved extensive travels throughout the Canadian Arctic, as well as to the Svalbard Islands, Siberia, northern Finland, and Greenland—the latter including visits to the U.S. Air Base at Thule, and the Danish research centre at Station Nord. In 1997, Professor Grant became the first historian and first woman to receive the Northern Science Award sponsored by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

Shylah Elliott

Shylah Elliott
Health Policy Analyst, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

TCollaborating to Improve Food Security in Nunavut

Shylah Elliott

Food insecurity is a critical and complex challenge for Inuit across Canada’s North. It has been reported that household food insecurity rates in Nunavut are as high as 70%, which is over 8 times the National average and among the highest documented food insecurity rates for an Indigenous population in a developed Country. Processes of colonialism, rapid and unpredictable environmental change, access to country food, and the extremely high cost of market food are just some of the factors that are contributing to this crisis. The impacts on individual health and well being, both physical and mental are severe, and continue to threaten the overall social stability within our small, remote communities.

To address this, a range of approaches are required, including short-term responses that focus on immediate community need, and long-term strategies that more broadly tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity. In this presentation, it will be illustrated how Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is working collectively with Territorial and National partners to advance programs and policies that will assist in the improvement of food security for Inuit.

Shylah Elliott has been working in social and Indigenous advocacy for the majority of her professional career. For the past 5 years, she has been employed as a Health Policy Analyst with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), which holds the responsibility of ensuring the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is implemented fully by all levels of Government and that all parties fulfill their obligations. The majority of Shylah’s work focuses on the social determinants of health, such as homelessness and food security, and she lends her energy to creating and partnering on initiatives that advocate for, and lead to, positive policy change for Nunavummiut. She has been living and working in Iqaluit, Nunavut for over 12 years and considers herself a fierce ally to Inuit. Shylah is most passionate about directing her professional and personal efforts to improve the current state of food insecurity across the Territory.

John England

Prof. John England
University of Alberta

Investigating Arctic environmental change: the journey from understanding to action in all that we do – the I , the You & the We

Prof. John England

The Science: For five decades my research program, augmented by 30 graduate students, has been reconstructing the nature of environmental change across the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: from Ice Age to present. This has involved documenting the configuration, dynamics and chronology of past ice sheets, and surveying thousands of kilometers of coastline whose raised marine shorelines record the ongoing crustal adjustments that these temporary ice loads produced. Thousands of radiocarbon dates on marine shells, driftwood and whalebone collected from these raised marine shorelines provide additional insights into sea ice and ocean currents spanning the past 10,000 yrs. These records have been augmented by lake and ocean sediment cores that test and diversify the terrestrial record. Collectively, this array of proxy records is like a time lapse movie that allows one to place modern environmental change in a long term perspective. I will present some of the highlights of this record, and its relevance to other research around the Arctic Ocean basin.

Broader implications: The most relevant issue is whether the environmental changes occurring today are simply “the same old, same old” or whether we are witnessing something fundamentally new? Several examples suggest that many are “unprecedented” – if not in magnitude then certainly in rate (e.g., the recent melting of buried glacier ice, the demise of the northern Ellesmere Island ice shelves). Some discoveries demonstrate the serendipity of many observations that reveal unexpected large scale processes (e.g., the Oscillation of the Transpolar Drift that amplifies historical observations by Fridtjof Nansen in the late 19th century). The understanding provided by Arctic fieldwork clarifies the processes of modern change, and this is essential to properly inform and activate public policy (COP21). This goal has been undermined by a serious diminishment in the support of Canadian Arctic research by the Federal government during the past two decades and underscores the long-overdue need for a Canadian Polar Policy now being drafted. A Polar Policy should finally ensure a vision and commitment of resources for Canadian leadership in a rapidly changing circumpolar world.

Deeper meanings: Despite the loftiness of these issues (science, policy, political change) one must also not lose sight of the importance of northern research, indeed all learning, as an inherently essential part of their own growth and one’s creative opportunity to mentor and inspire others. For me, Arctic science is inseparably embedded in many other, often overlooked experiences that animate every aspect of our lives: the storms, misadventures, long hours of discomfort and uncertainty, encounters with wildlife, solitude, and the inspiring friendships that vastly exceed the importance of one’s professional accomplishments. These are the vital components that make up the tapestry of one’s career and breathe meaning into becoming fully human. The simplicity and silence of the Arctic infuses an understanding and clarity increasingly elusive in our fragmented, industrialized world. Canadians need to exercise enlightened stewardship over this invaluable heritage. Who do you become while pursuing academic goals and on behalf of whom are we doing this. Science can only be effectively if we learn to connect hearts and minds on a planet in urgent need of leadership and cooperation.

John England is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta. His scientific contributions result from 50 years of fieldwork across Canada’s Arctic Archipelago documenting the nature of environmental change spanning Ice Age to present. This research has reconstructed the history of ancient ice sheets, sea ice and sea level that illuminate our understanding of modern Arctic environments, placing modern change in a necessary, long-term perspective. He is an advocate for the value and importance of northern science and increased public awareness of the precious heritage of the Canadian Arctic landscape. John proposed, and was instrumental in the creation of Canada’s northernmost National Park, Quttinirpaaq, Ellesmere Island. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2012 in recognition of his dedication to Arctic science, public outreach and education. He has supervised more than 30 graduate students in Arctic research that continue prominent Arctic careers and he continues to work closely with Aurora College in Inuvik to provide training for Gwitch’in and Inuvialuit students. John’s most recent Arctic fieldwork was on Ellesmere island this past August funded by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation. In addition to all the science, he has amassed even more cherished stories of discoveries and adventures while living in remote camps of two or three people – an unsung Canadian heritage!