Jennifer Spence, Edward Alexander, Rolf Rødven & Sara Harriger

Since the end of the Cold War, the Arctic has been defined by Arctic scholars as “exceptional.” A region protected from geopolitical tensions to the south. However, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent pause of circumpolar cooperation have challenged this designation. The Arctic appears to be again dominated by geopolitics. This article seeks to see beyond conventional understandings of “Arctic exceptionalism,” acknowledge a broader range of characteristics and features that make the Arctic unique and consider how this expanded view alters our perceptions of the region’s governance. Constructed as a thought experiment, this article asks, “what makes the Arctic exceptional?” And, by extension, “how does this allow us to see the Arctic and its governance differently?” To answer these questions, we introduce three stories of the Arctic as defined through geopolitics, environment, and Gwitch’in homelands. What insights do these stories provide about the past, present and future of the Arctic and Arctic governance? In a time of rapid change, uncertainty about the future, and reckoning with the past, it is important to examine assumptions, challenge the status quo, and continue to foster governance innovation. This article seeks to contribute to this effort.

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