Cultural Globalization and Canada

Blue Ice Cave courtey of puttsk at
Blue Ice Cave courtey of puttsk at

I’ve recently been reading Michael Crummy’s Galore, which tells the story of generations of families (the Sellers and Devines) in a remote village, Paradise Deep, in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Newfoundland. The entire novel is characterized by bleak humor and beautiful language. It’s also not for those who might be scandalized by bawdy scenes. Father Phelan, for example, is a renegade priest who comes to comfort a widow haunted by her dead husband’s ghost, and stays to torture the phantom by making love to his widow. But what most struck me about the work is the extent to which it reflects cultural globalization, because Crummy was clearly inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Year’s of Solitude. This much would have been clear even without the quote from Garcia Marquez at the book’s start. The entire novel is patterned after the Colombian novelists’ classic book, including the conclusion. …

Canada’s Idle No More Movement

This summer I will be giving a lecture at the University of Trier in Germany about Canada’s Idle No More movement, an ongoing protest movement that was begun by four women in Saskatchewan. Idle No More represents a grass-roots initiative, without a clear hierarchy, which fights for indigenous rights by popular protests, such as flash mobs and circle drumming in public places. The movement is so technically savvy that there supporters have even created an i-phone app, to locate protests near you. While the movement encompasses diverse demands, at the core the protesters are concerned about issues of indigenous sovereignty, treaty rights, and the environment.

Gathering of the Nations courtesy of EA at
Gathering of the Nations courtesy of EA at

The Keystone Pipeline and the Arkansas Leak

This image of Oil Barrels courtesy of Victor Habbick at

We are all still waiting for President Obama to make a decision about the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil from the Tar Sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The President has been under intense pressure, because environmentalists believe that this is their best opportunity to win a victory against global warming. Their case probably just became politically stronger this week when an Exxon Mobile pipeline in Arkansas leaked Albertan oil. This is the second spill of Oil Sands petroleum this week, because on Wednesday a train derailed in Minnesota and also released oil, although far less than the 10,000 barrels spilled in Arkansas. Given the fact that the Keystone pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels a day -much more than the pipeline that just leaked- it’s clear that the Keystone XL pipeline presents significant environmental risks, despite promises by the petroleum industry that this will be the safest pipeline ever built.

The GOP pushed Obama to approve Keystone in their weekly radio address, with the argument that Keystone would create 140,000 jobs. In fact, this number is much too high, and there is no credible evidence to support this figure. Indeed, the State Department recently stated that once the pipeline is built, it will only create 35 permanent jobs in the U.S. Still, such arguments have gained the pipeline critical support. A recent poll found that most Americans support the pipeline, and believe that it can be built in an environmentally sound manner. Other groups -in particular native peoples- are much more skeptical. Recently an alliance of U.S. and Canadian indigenous groups promised to unite to block not only Keystone, but also two other pipelines that are intended to bring Oil Sands petroleum to market.

In the end, the key issue for environmentalists cannot be the risk of a leak, although this is real, but rather the pipelines’ impact on carbon dioxide emissions, given that oil from Oil Sands takes more energy to process than traditional petroleum sources. And in the background, there is Venezuela, with its huge reserves of unconventional oil. I enjoy reading posts at a website, The Oil Drum, which is a venue for people who believe in Hubbert’s Peak; that is, that the world has reached the half-way mark in its production of fossil fuels, an event which will determine the planet’s future. It’s a great source for energy news and analysis, but I don’t agree with the central premise. I don’t think the question is when will we run out of oil, but rather how dirty will oil have to become before we stop using it. In this debate, the Keystone XL pipeline will be a key decision. Events in Arkansas this week may help to shape that outcome.

Prof. Shawn Smallman


Book Review of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach

Image of Winter Forest courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at
Image of Winter Forest courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at

As I discussed in an earlier post, I am currently working on a project about Algonquian peoples and religion in the Canadian north. In Australia, Canada and the United States the media generally depicts First Nations with reference to a distant past, while little attention is given to questions of colonialism and postcolonialism. As a result, indigenous peoples are often made invisible in Global and International Studies. People typically think of peoples such as the Kurds when they refer to stateless nations, but less attention is given to indigenous nations. With the “Idle No More” protests sweeping Canada, and the deplorable conditions in Attawapiskat gaining national attention, these issues have now gained global media coverage. …

The Graphic Vault at Canada’s National Post

Edward Tufte’s work, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, is a beautiful book, which enables the reader to interpret statistics in a new light. The chart displaying the size of Napoleon’s army as he first invaded then retreated from Russia is awe-inspiring. No chart of the same information could have conveyed as effectively the extent to which French forces evaporated away. I thought of this recently when I looked at a graphic series in the National Post, one of the two major Canadian newspapers. The vault contains a rich array of images, which could be powerful tools in the classroom. For example, Rubab Abid and Richard Johnson produced a striking series of maps (in a graphic work titled “Out of Africa’) that showed the level of investment by former colonial powers in Africa, as well as the natural resources that might have attracted them to these countries. This one chart could spark a powerful class discussion about the nature of neocolonialism in Africa. As with all items in the vault, it is possible to download a high-resolution copy from the site. …

Broken Arrow: Lost Nuclear Weapons in Canada

Image of Boeing B-52H by Tim Beach courtesy of

Within the U.S. military, the code term for a lost nuclear weapon is “Broken Arrow.” There have been many such incidents, from the dangerous accident in Savannah, Georgia, to the four nuclear weapons lost near Palomares, Spain. But what many people may not know was that the first nuclear weapons were lost in Canada. On February 13, 1950 a U.S. B-36 bomber, Flight 075, traveling from Alaska to Fort Worth Texas, had three engines catch fire, from what was later discovered to be a design flaw. The plane carried a Mark Four nuclear weapon, which was made with uranium but had a core of lead. The captain made the decision to jettison the bomb off the Canadian coast, after setting the weapon to airburst at 3000 feet. The bomb vanished in a conventional explosion, which rained uranium down onto the coast. The pilot then changed course back over land, where 16 crew members bailed out around midnight near Princess Royale Island. The plane itself flew on into the dark using auto-pilot. The bomber ultimately crashed into a mountainside in Northern BC. By this point, Strategic Command knew that they had lost a plane and a nuclear weapon, and the search was on. Twelve of the bomber’s crew were found alive. The bomber itself was only found in 1953 on the slopes of Mount Kologet. To this day, how the plane was found 200 miles from where the crew jumped, at a higher elevation, and in the opposite direction to that set on autopilot, remains a mystery.

The Globalized Arctic

Image of Polar Bear thanks to

This month’s issue of National Geographic has an article, “Vikings and Native Americans,” which focuses on archaeologist Patricia Sutherland’s work on Viking sites in the Canadian Arctic, particularly at Tanfield Valley. Sutherland has found a number of sites in the Arctic that contain Viking items. Other lines of evidence now suggest that there was a long trading relationship between the Dorset peoples of the Canadian Arctic and the Viking settlements in Greenland. These exchanges may have included genes, as is suggested by evidence for First Nation’s ancestry amongst a small number of modern Icelanders. The most likely explanation was that a Native American women came to Iceland around 1000 AD, about the time that the Norse first traveled to the New World.  Peter Schledermann’s chapter, “Ellesmere: Vikings in the Far North,” in Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga details other evidence that the Norse traders left in the Canadian High Arctic. …

The Declining Power of the U.S. in the Americas

This weekend I took part in a K-12 Educators session on Latin America, which the World Affair’s Council organized at Lewis and Clark College. It was an impressive event, which included music and dance exhibitions, as well as breakout sessions on a wide array of topics. I had been asked to present on Brazil. Given that I had an hour, and wanted to leave fifteen minutes for discussion and questions, what could I say to K-12 educators that would be meaningful? What I finally decided to do was to talk first about Brazil’s history for about twenty minutes, and then consider how Brazil’s rapid economic growth is giving its political leadership a chance to address these legacies. As always happens, the best part of the session was the time at the end when I had a chance to talk to the group, which included people from Panama and Peru. And during that conversation I realized that I could have organized the session in another way. I believe that the most important political and economic trend in South America is the waning influence of the United States. And this is a trend not only in the southern hemisphere but also throughout the Americas, as an article about Canada’s trade in today’s Wall Street Journal makes clear. …

Mystery rocket launches off of L.A. and Newfoundland

On Monday, January 25th 2010, Darlene Stewart saw something remarkable in the skies over Harbour Mille, a small community in Southern Newfoundland. She grabbed her camera, and snapped a picture of what appeared to be a rocket shooting diagonally into the sky. Another witness said that the rocket appeared to be only one of three objects that seemed to come out of the ocean itself. As people in Harbour Mille tried to understand what they had seen, different branches of the Canadian government passed of the responsibility for answering questions amongst themselves: “Originally on Wednesday, the RCMP said questions about the alleged missile sightings were being handled by Public Safety Canada, which had no comment other than to refer questions back to the RCMP. Then on Thursday, that federal department referred questions to the PMO” (Prime Minister’s Office). …

Canada’s Oil Sands, Pipelines and Atomic Bombs

I am a Canadian, born and raised in Southern Ontario. I founded a Canadian Studies program at my university. I was happy to see our first student recently graduate with a Canadian Studies certificate, and I am currently writing a book on a Canadian topic. So, it has been very painful for me to watch Canada’s recent foreign policy decisions related to global warming and the Oil Sands, particularly this last week in South Africa. My frustration has been magnified by the fact that I myself wrote an article about the Oil Sands years ago that -in retrospect- failed to examine the environmental costs of this resource.

Photo by puttsk at

Recent technical breakthroughs  have led to a current giddy sense of optimism about energy production, and the promise that the Western hemisphere rather than the Middle East may be the future of oil and gas production. As Daniel Yergin noted in a recent newspaper column: “U.S. petroleum imports, on a net basis, reached their peak -60%- of domestic consumption in 2005. Since then, they have been going in the other direction. They are now down to 46%.” Yergin pointed to the technological changes that made this possible: “The reason is the sudden appearance of `tight oil,’ which is extracted from dense rocks.” The spread of shale oil production has reversed the decline of domestic oil production. But there are costs to this development, and choices to be made. For a long time, the Canadian government has said that it would meet the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, but that it would do so without restricting Oil Sands development. But in Durban, South Africa last week Canada set this position aside for an all-out attack on Kyoto. …

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