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Northern exposure: Symposium, exhibition makes connection with Arctic region

Northern exposure: Symposium, exhibition makes connection with Arctic region


CEDAR FALLS | In recent weeks, northeastern Iowans have experienced a closer relationship with the Arctic as vast cold fronts have ranged over the Midwest. But the connection between the Arctic, Canada and Iowa goes far beyond wind chills and sub-zero temperatures.

The University of Northern Iowa is the site for the Arctic Social and Environmental Systems Research Lab, which engages faculty and students in projects related to social and environmental systems in the Arctic, including the Arctic Wildfires project, Arctic-FROST and Arctic Social Indicators.

On March 9, a symposium on Arctic exploration, sustainability and governance is being hosted at the Rod Library on the UNI campus. The event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is free and open to the public. It is in conjunction with “Canada’s Arctic: Vibrant and Thriving,” a photographic exhibition that offers perspective on Canada’s North, native cultures and the balance of modernity and traditional life, say Jessica Cruz, exhibit preparatory for University Museums.

Arctic artifacts, such as Inuit masks and other anthropological objects from the museum collection, also are on display, The objects were donated by UNI alumna Dorothy Jean Ray, an anthropologist/author who studied Native Alaskan art and culture. The exhibit continues through early April at the library.

“People are surprised that UNI has this big Arctic program, and how important it is the partnership between Canada and Iowa,” Cruz says.

The symposium is an opportunity to share knowledge and information about the Arctic and draw attention to issues such as sustainability, development and challenges, says Andrey Petrov. The Arctic is confronting rapid change in climate and physical environment which impacts communities and ecosystems.

Those changes have direct and indirect impacts on the U.S., he says. “Whether it’s the change in our own weather patterns, or if we care about species in the Arctic that are endangered, the warming of the climate or areas of economic development, it’s relevant to us,” says Petrov, UNI associate geography professor, director of ARCSES and principal investigator for Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability.

More than four million people live in the Arctic region, according to Canada’s Arctic Council. Traditional and local knowledge and rugged self-reliance intermingle with modern conveniences as residents seek to adapt and thrive in the harsh environment.

As a social scientist, Petrov studies how Arctic communities cope with environmental and social changes, from declining populations to lack of access to larger markets and attempts to spur development. “All of that is relevant in our own rural communities, who are experience many of the same sustainability problems. What we do here is can be useful for Canadian and Alaska communities, and vice versa,” he explains.

Counsel General of Canada-Minneapolis Jamshed Merchant says the economic, environmental and social well-being of the Arctic is a critical part of Canada's identity. "Our role is to help people understand the importance of the Arctic to who we are," he explains. They participate in at least one Arctic symposium each year in the U.S. 

The photo display connects with viewers on a personal level, Merchant notes. "A picture tells a thousand words, a thousand story. These are snapshots into everyday life in the Arctic today. You get to see the people and their way of life, the environment they live in and the economic elements that makes their lives so vibrant." 

Both Merchant and Petrov will be featured speakers, as well as Norma Kassi, Vuntut Gwich’in leader and co-founder of the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research; and Chris Southcott, professor at Lakehead University and principal investigator for Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic.

Adriana Muir, deputy senior Arctic official for the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council for the U.S. State Department, is expected to speak via a video link.

Kassi’s film, “Our Changing Homeland, Our Changing Lives,” will be screened. There will also be a poster session highlighting student research at UNI.

The symposium is sponsored by the UNI Museum, UNI Rod Library, UNI Department of Geography and the Consulate General of Canada.


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