BIG Region – Prairies

Photo Credit: Evan Leeson (Flickr)

The Prairies/Plains Region of North America is comprised of two provinces – Manitoba and Saskatchewan – sharing the 49th parallel with western Minnesota, North Dakota and eastern Montana. This section of the international border bisects a borderland region characterized by physical uniformity in its grassland ecosystem and continental climate, although there are widely divergent soil types, vegetation, and surface features on the local scale. The two sides also maintain a socioeconomic affinity in both enjoying a predominantly rural, resource and agrarian economy, with low population density and a geographical isolation from markets.

Yet while integration of the two sides has occurred to a considerable degree because of shared physical geographies, migration and capitalist influences, there have also developed divergent forces that have acted to distinguish the Canadian and American components.

Researchers wanted to explore the principal border-related issues identified by the Saskatchewan and Manitoba governments and whether these concerns have changed since NAFTA and 9/11. In terms of market flows, investigators wanted to look at what changes have occurred in the actual crossing of the Prairie region’s borders by goods, services, investment capital, and people, pre- and post- FTA, NAFTA, and 9/11. To what extent has the governance of Saskatchewan’s and Manitoba’s borders significantly changed related to trade and investment flows?

To what extent have changing patterns of trade, investment, travel and migration contributed to changes in governance? What roles, if any, do federal and municipal governments play in provincial policy-making? What degree of coordination exists among these different levels of government in policy-making?

What role, if any, do indigenous groups play in cross-border governance? And, on the cultural front, investigators are keen to explore to what extent the pattern of domestic relations, particularly intermarriages, among native peoples has been influenced by the border that transects and divides communities in Canada and the United States. To what degree has citizenship been a factor in patterns of cooperation, in religious, cultural, social and economic contexts among natives on both sides of the border? How has the pursuit of specific land claims been influenced in the cooperation of cultural leaders on both sides of the border?

Can a greater Plains borderland culture be identified? If so, at which scale does it manifest itself most clearly? How does borderland culture reflect historical patterns of settlement? How is Prairies/Plains culture imagined on both sides of the border? Are there similarities that transcend the geopolitical boundary?

What are the major mediums of cultural interchanges within the borderland region (trade, tourism, media, etc.)? At what scales are cross-border exchanges most pronounced?

Additionally, what role does the current transportation infrastructure play in facilitating market flows both east-west through the region and north-south with the United States? What effect does distance from markets play in determining market flows? Has this changed significantly over time with changing policy and changing transportation and other technologies?

When looking at migration and labour markets, researchers want to know what changes have occurred in people’s actual crossing of the region’s borders, both interprovincially and internationally, and in terms of changes in population mobility and patterns of movement of migrants, workers and students. To what extent have these changes been unilateral, cooperative, or reactive in nature, and to what extent have they stretched across national borders to international realms outside the US?

What have been the adaptations of existing corridors (i.e., extra-national changes that include the outsourcing or offshoring of bordering/border clearance processes)? Has there been a development or expansion of new corridors or geographies of distribution and settlement (i.e., devolution of policies and the relation to rural development strategies)? What are major border-related challenges that governments/employers face with regard to issues of recruitment and retention of workers/students?

With respect to questions of sustainability, what are the principal environmental challenges related to Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s physical borders and interprovincial and international economic relations? To what extent are the challenges based on traditional watershed and airshed management issues? What are the border-related parkland, wilderness and wildlife management issues? What are the broader climate issues as they relate to the prairies?

Of particular importance are questions relating to the continuing challenge of distance and isolation to commerce, trade and mobility, and the challenges facing cross-border cooperation and governance in an international region traditionally mired in political and economic peripherality.

Finally, researchers wanted to explore the challenges of developing economic diversity in a region that has been and continues to be dependent largely on the primary sector. However, questions regarding security will not be considered due to a lack of expertise in the subject amongst the researchers as it pertains to this part of North America.

Dr. Randy Widdis at the University of Regina led the Prairies region.