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Moved by the State – the reality of modern day human migration in the northern Polar Regions

10.04.2007
Seasonal nomadism, migration, and resettlement have always been important for the people living in the northern Polar Regions as these movements are key for their survival.

In the past, such movements were usually triggered by the local conditions which their continued existence is affected by activities such as aggregation in temporary winter villages near the sea ice for seal hunting and summer dispersal inland looking for wild reindeer.

Population movements and concentration have, since the 20th century, been more affected by outside factors such as the changes in policies reflecting market or state policies without a local character. The shift is causing damage to the social fabric of these societies.

To address this problem, the European Science Foundation (ESF) launched the EUROCORES BOREAS Collaborative Research Project “Moved by the State: Perspectives on Relocation and Resettlement in the Circumpolar North (MOVE)” in November 2006.

“As the regions of the circumpolar north are more tightly integrated into the global economy, and the interests of the state come to bear more heavily on the organisation of settlement in the north, the answer to the question of where people live in the north, or whether they live there at all, is increasingly out of local hands”, said Professor Yvon Csonka, of the University of Greenland, who is in charge of the MOVE programme.

“About half of the approximately 4 million people of the circumpolar Arctic live in northern European countries and the European Russian North,” said Csonka at the European International Polar Year (IPY) Launch on 26 February in Strasbourg, France. “They are all influenced by environmental and societal changes, such as permafrost melting, changes in vegetation and fauna, exploitation of natural resources, pollution, flows of population to and from the South, and fluctuating redistribution of riches under the control of far away governments.”

According to him, some of the forced relocations and de-nomadisation since the 1940s were aimed at improving health care, education, housing and welfare. Despite these good intentions, the initiatives were carried out through ‘Social engineering’ and State paternalism, which eventually led to an increase in social problems.

Understanding past state-driven relocations and developing the capacity to anticipate adapt to the consequences of future relocations, as well as anticipating future scenarios for northern European development is crucial for the survival of the northern societies and their way of life.

“The results will become increasingly relevant in the ongoing negotiations between states and communities about relocation in the face of increasing social and climatic change”, Csonka added.

MOVE will examine State induced resettlements, from the time of World War II until the present time, and their consequences, in a diversity of sites across the circumpolar north, from a ground-up perspective in order to address questions of community sustainability, social fabric and sense of belonging.

Mobilising an interdisciplinary team of anthropologists, demographers, historians and community-based researchers from Greenland, the USA, Finland, Canada and Russia, MOVE will for the first time consider in a single research framework, Russian/Soviet and Western modes of relocation, as well as indigenous and settler histories of migration.

Over a four-year project lifespan, field research involving five teams of researchers and local collaborators will be conducted in Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland and regions of the Russian far North (Chukotka, Magadan, Yamal).

Csonka expects that the outcome of the collaborative research project could be useful in mitigating the adverse social consequences of future relocations.

“The knowledge gained of the project will also aid in finding solutions for how northern experiences of resettlement contribute to our general understanding of similar phenomena worldwide,” he said.

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esf.org

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