I noticed a bit of a theme threading through the last few weeks of stories I’ve been covering — the concept of a border and why it’s a silly construct.
All borders are effectively psychological. Certainly, there are physical barriers that prevent movement from one area to the next — oceans are the most obvious — but both the fossil record and human exploration show that a good problem solver can find their way around any obstacle with enough time — the latest being gravity.
Most of nature uses scents to mark their territories. Humans have moved on to drawing ink circles on pieces of paper, erecting signs and creating a legal framework to enforce them, but the overall effect is the same. The message is, “My territory, keep out unless you’re supposed to be here.”
And like most psychology, unless you are actually programmed for it the message means absolutely nothing.
Plenty of discussions over the last few weeks have highlighted the redundancy of drawing borders. Last week, I wrote about the Inuvik Warming Centre, which not only serves as a safe haven for Inuvikians with nowhere else to go during a cold night, but also as a way station for people moving up and down the highway.
Where does Inuvik end and the rest of the Beaufort Delta begin? For these folks, that question is irrelevant. They go where they need to and hope they don’t get harassed on the way.
This theme ran through two completely unrelated stories I wrote this week as well. The obvious one is the Yukon government taking the time to visit Inuvik about their climate change plan. Why?
Well, for starters, the wind, water and biosphere do not recognize the Yukon-NWT border. Any environmental occurrences on either side of it will affect everyone in the area, regardless of who you pay taxes to.
Also tying into the other story that prompted this meditation, both the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in territories cross the same, Ottawa-drawn border. This was a huge factor in the Yukon’s decision to include the Beaufort in its climate plan but also plays into the Northern Games.
During my chat with Gerry Kisoun, he noted organizers would love to bring Inuit and northern peoples from all across the Arctic to the games this summer, but bureaucratic barriers would likely prevent the Sami from making the trek from Lapland, for example. These are folks who have lived quite independently from the madness of European politics for centuries, yet their movement is being dictated by those same politics.
However, a group of Sami will again make the trip to the Arctic Winter Games this March – which they have done since 2004 – so it’s clear if the means are there, they will come.
Of course, any discussion of borders would be incomplete without pointing out the massive exoduses across the Earth caused by climate change. Refugees are escaping homes that are increasingly uninhabitable and going where they need to, hoping they don’t get harassed on the way.
Perhaps the stronger power of borders is not what they keep out, but what they do to those within them. They create dichotomies in our minds of “us versus them,” where ‘us’ inevitably have some divine right to our actions and desires, whereas ‘them’ are, well… them.