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Arctic politics: What nationality is Santa Claus?

Heather Exner-PirotEye on the Arctic

Editor's note: This commentary is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations from Canada, Russia and other countries across the Arctic.

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The circumpolar states have been as busy as elves preparing scientific evidence to support their claims to large swathes of the Arctic seabed. But while it’s possible one of them may legally lay claim to the North Pole in the next few years, there is a far more important question during this Christmas season: What nationality is Santa? Oil, gas and shipping lanes are about as appealing as grandma’s fruitcake when stacked up against the biggest prize in the Arctic -- Kris Kringle’s citizenship.

Not content to claim just the seabed surrounding the North Pole, Canada has gone one step further and claimed Father Christmas himself.

Canada’s claim is further bolstered by the fact that the magnetic North Pole is in Canadian territory, just off the coast of Ellesmere Island. However, it’s moving towards Russia at a clip of about 40 miles a year; Canadian children will be so disappointed when their letters to Santa and his famous HOH OHO postal code need an international stamp!

Our American neighbors, not known for their subtlety, have ignored geographical reality and gone ahead and established their own North Pole -- literally. North Pole, Alaska, population 2,200, is located about 10 miles southeast of Fairbanks and boasts streets such as Snowman Lane, Santa Claus Lane and St. Nicholas Drive. No word on whether you can see Russia from there.

Speaking of Russia, their claim to the North Pole has all the subtlety of Rudolph’s nose on a foggy Christmas Eve, and stems from the dropping of a Russian flag in a titanium canister onto the seabed floor of the Pole in 2007. If Santa Claus really is Russia’s Father Frost, it’s unlikely he’s a member of the Communist Worker’s Party -- those elves aren’t going to have a toy for every boy and girl by working 37.5-hour work weeks!

On the European side, the Finns have the strongest claim to Santa’s citizenship. The elaborate Santa Claus Village, a theme park, is located just north of the city of Rovaniemi, in the Arctic Circle. Concorde jets used to fly directly from London to Rovaniemi during the Christmas season so that British children could visit Santa for the afternoon. Kind of like Hillary Clinton at this year’s Arctic 5 meeting. And there’s little question that Donner, Blitzen, and all of the other reindeer are of Scandinavian origin; they never let poor Russia play in any NATO war games.

Whether you call him St. Nick, Ded Moroz or Père Noël, there are a few things I’m sure are on Santa Claus’ list:

  • Arctic Council reform -- visions of a permanent secretariat dancing in my head.
  • Enhanced Coast Guard and Search & Rescue capabilities -- your presence is your present.
  • A regional seas agreement -- gonna determine what’s naughty and what’s nice.
  • Mandatory shipping guidelines -- time to regulate the Polar Expressway.

Here’s hoping all of the good Arctic boys and girls learn to share in 2011. Happy Holidays!

Heather Exner-Pirot is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, interested in Arctic security, circumpolar relations and northern governance issues. She is a former program assistant with the University of the Arctic Undergraduate Office.