(Liza Piper, "Environmental health in the North: The example of nutrition"/Northern Canada Workshop at Network in Canadian History and Environment, 13 October 2011) -- For several years now, I have been researching and writing about the relationships between health and environmental change in the North over the past 150 years. When I initiated this project, it was enormous in scope, reaching from the late-eighteenth century right up to the present. I came at the topic from the perspective of Alfred Crosby’s seminal work on ecological imperialism. Specifically, I wished to explore the role that disease organisms played in facilitating the imposition of colonial control over the lands and people who would eventually make up Canada’s three northern territories (the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut).
Euro-Canadian germs worked as assistant colonizers in a process of social and environmental change that was its most intense from the late-nineteenth century into the late-twentieth century, and culminated in moments of crisis across the North in this period. These moments of crisis were signalled by epidemic outbreaks (such as a 1928 influenza epidemic in the Mackenzie Valley and a 1949 poliomyelitis outbreak in Chesterfield Inlet) and episodes of starvation (including the well-known famine in the Keewatin in the 1950s). These crises, in turn, shaped the emerging colonial relationships binding camps with communities, north and south, and defining northern society and economy in the twentieth century. Thus it was the responses to ill-health and ecological change that shaped much of the colonial apparatus of the Canadian state in the North. ...
The health of northern environments and the health of northern people were closely connected. Northern lands and waters were transformed in the twentieth century: as a result of increased hunting, trapping, and fishing (to the point of over-harvesting of game animals, fur-bearers, fowl, and fish species); as part of new industrial developments; and through the emergence of new commercial and social geographies (new transport routes, new populations centres, and so forth). So, too, northern diets changed.
... as my essay demonstrates, by the latter half of the twentieth century, the Canadian state came to use nutrition and nutritional science as the means by which to understand and to attempt to manage changing relationships between (predominantly Aboriginal) northerners and their environments. That is, diet became a tool of colonization and “nutrition” a means for colonizers to deal with the impacts they were having in the North.
This item is the thirteenth in a series of posts on the environmental history of northern Canada.
Posted by Amanda Graham – 14 October 2011; 11:32:22 AM – Permalink
Tagged: Arctic, News, Research