WWU's Center for Canadian-American Studies highlighted at recent national conference

 Nadine Fabb, interim director of the Canadian Studies Center at the University of Washington, and Christina Keppie, director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies at WWU and president of the Association for Canadian Studies in the US.

Western Washington University’s longstanding contribution to Canadian-American Studies was the focus of a special roundtable at the 26th Biennial Conference for the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS), held recently in Washington, D.C. Marking 50 years of Canadian Studies in the U.S., the event featured academics, practitioners, and policymakers from across North America committed to a conference theme of ‘Canada: Near and Far.’

The Nov. 18 roundtable focused on Donald K. Alper’s 2021 book “Bridging the Longest Border: A History of Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University.” Alper, an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at WWU, taught courses on Canadian politics and Canada/U.S. relations for over 40 years. He is the former director of Western’s Center for Canadian-American Studies (C/AM) and founded the Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI) in 2006.

Moderated by C/AM director Christina Keppie, the roundtable focused not only on the key historical milestones that helped the discipline of Canadian-American Studies thrive at Western over the past half century, but also the legacy of Alper’s important contribution to the field. The presenters included BPRI director Laurie Trautman and professor of journalism Derek Moscato from WWU, and Nadine Fabbi from the University of Washington. Alper, who was in Bellingham, joined the dialogue virtually.

Fabbi, the Interim Director of UW’s Canadian Studies Center and Arctic and International Relations, revisited Alper’s history of the national recognition afforded to Western in the post-World War II era as a result of key U.S/Canada educational engagements. For example, the American Assembly, a public policy think tank established by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, designated Western as the host of a 1986 conference on Canada-U.S. relations.

Held in Sudden Valley, the conference tackled issues such as binational trade, Canadian cultural protectionism, and environmental threats to the cross-border bioregion now knowns as the Salish Sea. In addition to dialogue between policymakers and educators, the conference spurred on student internships, cross-campus scholarly interest in Canadian Studies, and a growing collaboration between WWU and the University of Washington. The two universities formed the Pacific Northwest National Resource Center on Canada that has enjoyed federal support for nearly four decades.

Moscato similarly picked up on the key milestones described in Bridging the Longest Border that helped Canadian-American Studies thrive, but that also situated WWU as a platform for diplomacy and dialogue at a national level. For example, during a time of political and environmental tensions during the 1970s, including the Ross Dam controversy in the North Cascades, Western hosted the three-day Symposium on Canadian-American Relations, which included British Columbia Premier Dave Barrett and Washington Governor Dan Evans. The 1974 summit, according to Alper, “established Western’s role in the Pacific Northwest as the “go-to” place for public events on matters involving Canada.”

During this time, C/AM scholars became a key source for reporters from national and regional media, as well as student publications like the Western Front, who looked to WWU professors for contextualization and expertise on Canada-U.S. affairs. Pointing to Western’s growing role in ecological policy issues such as protections for the cross-border Salish Sea and Skagit River watersheds, he noted another key dimension of Alper’s support of Canadian-American Studies: scholarly impact. Moscato pointed to the legacy of Alper and his WWU colleagues in researching key cross-border policy events such as the 1984 High Ross Treaty (also known as the Skagit River Treaty), which has become a historic touchstone for the two countries on cross-border environmental and energy policy.

Laurie Trautman, who took on Alper’s post as WWU's Border Policy Research Institute director upon his retirement, picked up on the themes of engagement, dialogue, and bridge-building between the two nations. Highlighting the role of the BPRI as a facilitator of research, public engagement, and policymaking, she noted ongoing collaborations with a wide swathe of organizations, including the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, the Future Borders Coalition, and the D.C.-based Wilson Center.

Trautman also highlighted the growing role of BPRI (which was created largely in response to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks) during times of crises on the border. Most recently, this included the COVID-19 global pandemic which led to severe restrictions on cross-border mobility. Concurrent with Alper’s vision, BPRI has become an important platform nationally for nonpartisan policy dialogue, public deliberation, and the dissemination of research about cross-border political, economic, and cultural issues.

The establishment and success of BPRI has fostered enduring cross-border relations in the region, spanning academia, government, and private sector stakeholders.