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Criticism of Canadian Arctic Expedition reenactment was unfair

  • Author: David Morrison
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published July 17, 2013

Editor's note: The following commentary was submitted in response to a recent analysis, titled "Is Canadian's retracing of 1913 expedition an unnecessary exercise?," written by Mia Bennett, who writes for the circumpolar media partnership Eye on the Arctic.

Mia Bennett finds the Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE) unworthy of commemoration, and researcher David Gray's private expedition to revisit some of the CAE sites mere "Arctic posturing." Her reasons seem strangely unconvincing. Apparently, leader Vilhjalmur Stefansson's claim to Canadian or British citizenship was dubious, the expedition was originally to have been American-sponsored, membership in the Expedition did not fit into neat, national lines, and most tellingly it seems, because people died. None of these is exactly a novel discovery, nor even collectively do they constitute any kind of reasonable argument about the ultimate importance of the Expedition, or its long term effects in the western Canadian Arctic (which are considerable).

Rather than argue the value of the Expedition on its own terms, it is she who is posturing. Ms. Bennett's agenda seems pretty clear and doesn't require an acute ability to read between the lines. She doesn't like the CAE because "Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is heavily promoting (it)."

Hardly fair I should think, especially to David Gray, who has organized a privately-sponsored and very modest research trip to the western Canadian Arctic. Even if the Canadian government's promotion of the CAE was somehow inappropriate and politically suspect – which it is not – David Gray is hardly guilty by association. I have known David for a dozen years. His intense scholarly interest in the Canadian Arctic Expedition long pre-dates the existence of a "Harper government." He is the author of an excellent and very detailed website on the Expedition, and curator of a 6,000-square-foot exhibition, which opened at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 2011 and is currently on tour.

The research he proposes to accomplish is significant, and will not, so far as I know, cost the Canadian taxpayer a cent. What gives Ms. Bennett the right to cast aspersions?

Dr. David Morrison is director of Archaeology and History at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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