Racialization and Resistance in the Ice Geographies of the Arctic and Colonized Alaska

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Land is not always made of earth, as we discuss with Jen Rose Smith. Her work on ice in the context of the Arctic Circle in general, and Alaska in particular, shows how the very materiality of land has deep repercussions in both the way Indigenous people are racialized and the means through which they can resist colonialism.

Rose Smith Funambulist 1
La’ Glacier on Eyak land. / Photo by MNDA (2021).

LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: You’re currently writing a book that will be entitled Icy Matters: Race, Indigeneity, and Coloniality in Ice-Geographies. I know that this is a work in progress so what you can say about it is limited, but could you tell us a little bit about ice in an issue dedicated to land? What does the temporality and mutability of ice involve as a key component of one’s living environment? Your short fiction, “Cryogenics,” around the La’ Glacier in your homeland is something I have in mind while asking the question.

JEN ROSE SMITH: Sure, I can talk a bit about it. Basically, I’m interested in ice in three ways, and I’m using this kind of three pronged approach to come at my analyses. On a general scale, I’m thinking about how ice has been wielded as a tool and a terrain for furthering multiple forms of white supremacy. So the first way that I’m interested in ice is thinking about it as an imaginary. Arctic ice geographies—I do a little bit of thinking in Antarctica, but mostly on Arctic ice geography—this, major part of the globe, has filled the West with fear and anxiety. That ice geographies, through this particular colonial lens, have been understood as barren, blank, empty, without history, as ahistorical and without sociality. That’s one of the ways that I’m thinking about ice and how it’s been sort of rendered and mediated. And we can see this in some major contemporary ways. In this moment, we are seeing ice as it appears in a dominant cultural imaginary, as it is narrated, and packaged out to multiple viewing audiences as melting ice: calving glaciers, fracturing ice sheets, etc., ice that the viewer can’t necessarily pinpoint its location—it’s the ice melt of everywhere.. These images fill our TV screens, movies, computers, and the newspapers, and in that way, ice is utilized and forced to represent a climate apocalypse that is said will inevitably destroy the planet, and will destroy the human species.