Power, Truth, And Fossil Fuels. The Inuit Community Of Clyde River?s Struggle Against The Arctic Resource Rush
The 21st century has seen the world fix its eyes upon the fossil fuel and mineral resources of the Arctic. The Canadian government has embraced neoliberal policy in its efforts to draw investment to the region, offering low royalty rates, lenient regulatory regimes, and limited powers for northern governments. The approach has not necessarily sat well with Inuit, the Indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic. A 450-year old history of extractive industry has left them on the losing side of a core-periphery relationship with the global capitalist economy, and many now seek liberation from economic and political subordination. Inuit therefore hope to control extraction in order to a strike a balance with other priorities, including subsistence practices and protection for their distinct cultural identity. The fight to assert Inuit self-determination in the face of the oncoming resource rush is perhaps nowhere clearer than in the resistance of the tiny Baffin Island hamlet of Clyde River to a proposed offshore oil exploration project in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. During the four year environmental assessment and public consultation process headed by the National Energy Board, Canada’s arms-length federal energy regulator, opposition grew as Inuit became convinced that the process was meaningless, that their input was irrelevant, and that there would be no significant regional benefit. Nonetheless, the NEB celebrated the level of public participation that had occurred and approved the project in June of 2014 (NEB 2014). Examined as part of a chain of boom and bust cycles, facilitated in part by government policies that sought to sedentarize Inuit, the Clyde River case represents an example of the mechanisms through which Indigenous peoples are subordinated as their lands are sought for the purposes of resource extraction (Bonesteel 2006; QIA 2010). Such processes ultimately generate dependency on the market economy and ensure that economic surplus flows out the region (Amin 1976; Harvey 2005; Hodgkins 2009; Frank 1966; Wallerstein 2004). According to Marxist theory, imperial trade relationships are a strategy to stave off the crises of overproduction that capitalism is structurally bound to produce (Harvey 2005; Marx 1867). However, the Clyde River case and its historical context suggest that the exercise of power in these processes transcends pre-meditated strategies intended to uphold the capitalist system. Foucauldian criticisms of Marxism assert that power does not belong to the elite, but is an active force that circulates throughout society through the concept of “truth” (1980). Power relations arise in the discursive practices through which we police what can be considered true, and who can be considered a truth-speaker. Drawing upon this theory, the formation and maintenance of the Arctic as an extractive periphery in cases like Clyde River’s are explored through the operation of power as truth, within which the elite agenda is but one element. Current environmental assessment and consultation processes inevitably reproduce these power relations, and are therefore not adequate to ensure Inuit are able to temper the effects of extraction or to protect their way of life.