‘Breaking the Ice’ provides example for other cultures

On Sept. 22, Barry S. Zellen, author of “Breaking the Ice: From Land Claims to Tribal Sovereignty in the Artic”, editor of the journal, “Strategic Insights”, and Research Director of the Arctic Security Project with The Center for Contemporary Conflict at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, spoke in the bookstore on campus. Zellen was in Alaska for the Arctic Science Conference at UAF and the Northern Research Forum in Anchorage and was able to stop by our campus to speak.

His book, “Breaking the Ice”, was published this past March and takes a closer look at the evolution of land claims in the North, with some concentration on its early days in Alaska. The book also discusses the ways in which the Native people of Alaska have evolved, along with their cultures, lands, and resources over the past forty years. He discusses the collisions between new and old worlds and mentions that Alaska’s example is one that will influence tribes all over the world.

“Breaking the Ice” is not Zellen’s only book, though it is the only one published at this point in time. The book is part of a trilogy, and the next two books are expected to be in print within the next few years. These two works are titled: “On Thin Ice: Geopolitics, Climate Change, and the Age of the Arctic” and “Cold Front: Ottawa, the Inuit, and the Struggle for Arctic Sovereignty”.

The former will discuss the transformation of the region as a whole in regards to climate change and economic globalization. The latter will take off where “Breaking the Ice” ended and will be focused more around Canada’s involvement with the Inuit people and the sovereignty of the northern territory.

“History is like a puzzle with interconnected pieces. What happens in one part of the North is closely watched by other regions, especially adjacent regions,” Zellen said.

Among his other works includes a trilogy expected out next year, which will be focused more around political and strategic philosophy. This series will include the books: “Leviathan’s Rise”, “Leviathan’s Reign”, and “Leviathan’s Fall”. These works will emphasize the “growing power of the modern state” and “efforts by political philosophers to imagine solutions to the problem of chaos and anarchy” as Zellen mentioned in an interview.

When asked about the origin of his inspiration, Zellen stated that it all began in 1991, when he worked as an editor for a newspaper by the Inuvialuit Communications Society. Topics that were covered included: the land claims and efforts to aid the Aboriginal independence in the Western Arctic. This sparked Zellen’s interest in the topic and from there, he moved to the Delta region, where he continued his work with the Aboriginal media.

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There, he worked with the Dene of the Mackenzie Valley, as they approached the signing of a land claim for an extensive piece of land. The land claims process collapsed shortly after but the Inuvialuit’s development inspired the Gwich’in to pull away from the Dene Nation and pursue their own land claim.

“It’s about the people of the North, and their innovative efforts to create solutions, resolve conflicts, and build institutions to manage and develop the region’s many resources, and strike a balance between forces of tradition and modernization,” Zellen said. Through his works and by raising awareness about the goings-on of the North, Zellen is bringing knowledge of this topic to people all around the country, with the first step including the publishing of his first book “Breaking the Ice”.

Zellen spoke fondly of his time spent at UAA, describing it as “a really great event on short notice!” Those who attended not only included students, but Alaska Native leaders, UAA faculty members, and Native rights lawyers. Zellen mentioned that he is still in touch with several of the attendees and gave a special thanks to Rachel Epstein, the Events Coordinator at the bookstore.