- Mar 2017
the northern frontier
The Northern Frontier is a historical term which regards the arrival and exploitation of the Arctic region by outsider actors, or Tan’ngit, as a deterministic outcome of economic development. The notion of a predestined Arctic frontier therefore serves as a trend that significantly predates the Mackenzie Valley and Western Arctic gas pipeline and energy corridor proposal of 1977. Beginning in the 19th century, the arrival of imperial powers to the region sparked the beginning of a prolonged era of economic transformation and exploitation, fueled by the engine of an emergent capitalist economy and in the aura of colonial expansion. The establishment of industrial companies in the region, such as the Hudson Bay Company or the American Commercial Company, signified a physical presence in the region which symbolized a flag-staffing on the region. The economic trade among Inuit communities would be transformed as a result of this development. A primary example of this can be seen in the commercialization of the bowhead whale, which marked a significant advance for the drive of industrial development in the United States. The utility of whale products became widespread within metropolitan commerce, as “whale oil found its way to lighthouses, candle makers, and factory machines, while baleen formed corset stays and buggy whips”. This innovative process of commodifying the marine ecosystem of the Beaufort Sea attracted significant labor and capital investment, a development which culminated in the federal support of whale extraction from the region by the end of the century. The extension of the frontier moves beyond economic development as well. The emergence of scientific exploration in the region, often heralded for its “neutrality and objectivity”, served a particularly one-dimensional purpose in mapping the geography, ecology, and resource potential of the Arctic for imperialist powers. The historical basis of the Northern Frontier becomes important in understanding the cumulative experience of the indigenous communities upon the arrival of the pipeline and corridor proposal.
Stuhl, Andrew. Unfreezing The Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.