The Dirt Issue


The Politics of Dirt in the Contemporary Klondike


Way up, up, up in the far North there’s a place where the Trumps and the Guggenheims made their fortunes. The latter by digging up the land, the former by running a bar and brothel for those digging. It’s the same place where local miners are now bonafide world-famous reality stars, inciting a contemporary gold rush led by affluent American and European tourists.

Inspired by watching TV, this demographic––perhaps definable by its susceptibility to advertising––bravely travels to the Klondike region during the brief window of a sub-arctic summer. To embark on this kind of pilgrimage with dignity and honour, many choose to don the name tags and white socks as befitting the cenobite regalia of a corporate vacation package. Some opt for the auspices of RVs, a bus tour, or even charter their own planes. With whatever means (but only with means), they join a seasonal procession of tourists due North.

Largely understandable as a rite of passage rooted in "OK Boomer" mysticism, these wistful crusaders of leisure see magic in spending a small fortune to peer into primordial holes from whence such small fortunes first emerged.

They come to bask in the ambience of dirt piles.

Like frenzied gulls in a cafe dumpster, tourism marketers smell the pungent tang of profits rising from the steaming scrapheap of a catastrophic mining history, gleefully contributing as many carbon footprints as possible to our current climate crisis. Greed is a hell of a drug, and what better way to mainline retiree money forever into our dirty little theme park community than with a UNESCO World Heritage designation?

The only problem is people are still busy fucking this landscape up for gold and they don’t need any “rules” or “regulations” to distract from their free rein to push dirt around as they see fit, thank you very much.

Thus, seemingly incongruously, local miners have organized a ‘No UNESCO’ movement against international recognition of the historic importance of…local miners.

This is a town that experiences boom and bust cycles––does it matter why or how fast that happens? However, with the rest of the globe entering into a recession (maybe even a depression), historically this means mining for gold up here will likely ramp up.

As money pours into gold stocks (and silver, lead, platinum, etc.), large and small operations will be as determined and ubiquitous as ever on the Northern landscape. This same desperation and promise of work is what sparked the colonial horror show of crime, disease, racism, sex trafficking, abuse and environmental catastrophe of the original 1896 Klondike Gold Rush.

A hundred years from now, will this period also be celebrated, fetished and monetized? Perhaps there will be a UNESCO World Heritage Designation application to mark the consequences of our choices today. Perhaps local miners will again oppose it because profits over the environment will still drive us to make the same choices.

Maybe there won’t be anyone left here who cares either way.

Welcome to the contemporary Klondike.