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Killam Visiting Scholar studies Arctic security and sovereignty

Whitney Lackenbauer looks at national and local definitions of security


In his research, Killam Visiting Scholar Whitney Lackenbauer seeks to redefine the issue of security to include the very real challenges facing people who live in the North. Photo by Riley Brandt

October 25, 2017

Whitney Lackenbauer, the 2017-18 Killam Visiting Scholar, discovered his fascination for Canada’s North as a PhD student working with Arctic scholars at UCalgary in 2000. “Once I did my first trip, I was hooked,” says the history professor at St. Jerome’s University (University of Waterloo).

Lackenbauer, MA'99, PhD'04, combines his modern Canadian and Northern history expertise with innovative discussions about Arctic foreign and public policies as well as circumpolar affairs. He’s working to understand state-level understandings of sovereignty and security and how these have evolved, as well as more local perceptions and interests. 

As part of his scholarship, Lackenbauer seeks to redefine the issue of security to include the very real challenges facing people who live in the North.  “What is it that needs to be secured — is it food, energy, health? Then we must ask the question ‘For whom are we securing the Arctic?’ Is it for the state? Individual Canadians? Indigenous or northern communities?” he says.

There are very real threats to northern communities including problems such as a generator going down in the middle of winter — “that’s a crisis” — to Indigenous hunters not feeling safe going on the ice to try to feed their families. “This is a serious issue when all of a sudden the ice conditions and environmental conditions are changing,” says Lackenbauer. “When we look at the tremendous impacts of climate change on northern communities it’s clear that we’re observing a region that’s undergoing some pretty major change.”

Meanwhile, Lackenbauer has found that some of the media attention about potential threats to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic is “really overblown or even fanciful.” He’s working to understand the pressing issues and priorities and “how to address the challenges and opportunities that are emerging in the North.”

As a Killam Visiting Scholar, Lackenbauer will be on campus until the end of the year, working with researchers and sharing his expertise by giving lectures in history, political science and anthropology classes, leading seminars and running a series of workshops and symposia. Lackenbauer is also planning an international conference on Canada-Russia relations in the Arctic that will be held in March, 2018.

“He is really multi-disciplinary,” says Petra Dolata, the Canada Research Chair in the History of Energy and Lackenbauer’s host at the university. “He’s one of Canada’s leading experts on Arctic history and politics and he’s very good at showing the importance of history in this specific area.”

Lackenbauer is also a fellow of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies and the Arctic Institute of North America. “The North is incredible in its geographic expanse but also in terms of the diversity of the people who live there,” he says. “It is a very intellectually stimulating place.”