Fantasies of Arctic agriculture: Frontiers, farming and the colonial imaginary

Authors: Eleanor Stephenson*, McGill University
Topics: Food Systems, Indigenous Peoples, Historical Geography
Keywords: Arctic, Inuit, colonialism, food systems, food security, political ecology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 39
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Numerous efforts are now underway to expand agricultural production in Arctic and Sub-Arctic Canada, from insulated greenhouse domes to hydroponic gardens in retrofitted ‘sea-cans.’ Such projects, sponsored by organizations ranging from NGOs to the Canadian Space Agency, are widely positioned as innovative solutions to high food costs and high rates of food insecurity experienced by Inuit communities, and as adaptive responses to the effects of climate change on Northern food systems. However, Arctic agricultural ambitions have a longer and more complex history, with many situated within missionary and colonial activity. Drawing on ethnographic and archival sources, this paper locates contemporary Arctic agriculture projects within a longer tradition of attempted agricultural and livestock production in Northern Canada, from 19th century mission farms along the Mackenzie River; to sheep, chicken and cow-rearing experiments in Inuvialuit and Nunavik settlements in the 1940s and 50s; to government-issued handbooks for ‘Gardening on Permafrost’ in the 1970s. While of some of these endeavors persist today, many were short lived, ill-suited to local geographies and priorities. This paper explores how we might make sense of lingering Euro-Canadian ‘fantasies’ of an agriculturally-productive Arctic, asking what this phenomenon means for food security interventions today.

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