Bringing the North to Minnesota

December 14, 2011



While the snowy Arctic may seem to be a long way from the American Midwest, the “North Star” state of Minnesota has a rich tradition of polar exploration, as well as Arctic scientific and educational work. The Arctic is a region in which Canadians and Americans frequently collaborate, and the engaging discussions at a recent symposium brought the topic home for the many Minnesotans in attendance.

The symposium, entitled “The Changing Arctic: International Cooperation and Development”, offered the chance for experts to weigh in on the future of the Arctic as it pertains to economic development, climate change, and culture.

Co-hosted in partnership with the Will Steger Foundation and the University of Minnesota, the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis organized the symposium to spark conversation and raise awareness of the Arctic’s strategic importance to Canada and the United States, highlighting current military cooperation (such as Operation Nanook), future economic and social development, and ongoing education and exploration in Canada’s north.

At the symposium, Minnesotans and Canadians engaged in thought-provoking discussion about how the Arctic is of increasing importance to our countries and to the Upper Midwest in particular.

Will Steger, Arctic explorer and founder of the Will Steger Foundation in Minnesota, highlighted his own first-hand experience in looking at the impacts of climate change in the Arctic as a canary in the coal mine for other areas across the globe.

Commander Mary Ellen Durley of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder captivated the audience with her accounts of the Nanook 2010 joint military and search and rescue efforts in Arctic waters.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar called for continued partnership with Canada and U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to provide a blueprint for strengthening economic goals and maritime security and resolving border disputes.

The symposium was the first of its kind in the upper Midwest, and Consul General Martin Loken took the opportunity to discuss Canada’s Northern Strategy and Arctic Foreign Policy, as well as Minnesota-Canada links in the region. Consul General Loken’s remarks were of particular relevance in the context of discussions surrounding Arctic infrastructure and ownership of resources beneath the sea ice.

Keynote speaker P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Chair of the History Department at the University of Waterloo, noted that although much of the rhetoric surrounding the Arctic is in “crisis mode”, there are many more opportunities for Canada and the U.S. to work together to the benefit of both nations.

For those who were unable to attend the symposium in person, the panels, speeches and lively discussions were streamed online, and much of the content was broadcast live on Twitter. Several participants remarked on the motivating – though sobering – nature of the discussions.

“I truly enjoyed the conversations, and the presentations,” said one attendee. “I’ve been to a lot of talks and meetings over the years, and can honestly say [the symposium] ranks among the best. The breadth and knowledge of the speakers was very impressive, and it was a nice mix of disciplines and backgrounds.”

Discussions of the changing Arctic continue both on and offline, as Canadians and Americans around the world weigh in on how ongoing changes bring new challenges – and invigorating opportunities – to international cooperation and diplomacy.

View the article online and listen to the radio interview here.




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