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Inuit Observations on Climate Change


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Media coverage of Sila Alangotok: Inuit Observations on Climate Change


On Banks Island in Canada's High Arctic, Inuvialuit hunters and trappers have a close relationship with the natural world. As they travel over the tundra or harvest fish from the sea, they notice even the smallest changes to their environment. Recently, the changes have been significant and worrying. The climate has become unpredictable; the landscape unfamiliar.

Autumn freeze-up occurs up to a month later than usual and the spring thaw seems earlier every year. The multi-year sea-ice is smaller and now drifts far from the community in the summer, taking with it the seals upon which the community relies for food. In the winter the sea-ice is thin and broken, making travel dangerous for even the most experienced hunters. In the fall, storms have become frequent and severe, making boating difficult. Thunder and lightning have been seen for the first time.

Hot weather in the summer is melting the permafrost and causing large-scale slumping on the coastline and along the shores of inland lakes. The melting has already caused one inland lake to drain into the ocean, killing the freshwater fish. Around the town of Sachs Harbour, it is causing building foundations to shift.

New species of birds such as barn swallows and robins are arriving on the island. In the nearby waters, salmon have been caught for the first time. On the land, an influx of flies and mosquitoes are making life difficult for humans and animals.

View of Sachs Harbour

These changes tell local people that the climate is warming. The residents of Sachs Harbour wonder if they can maintain their way of life in the face of further changes.

Given the dramatic changes that local people have observed, IISD and the Hunters and Trappers Committee of Sachs Harbour initiated a year-long project to document the problem of Arctic climate change and communicate it to Canadian and international audiences. The project team worked in partnership with specialists from five organizations to develop an innovative method for recording and sharing local observations on climate change.

Woman writing - workshop

The approach combined participatory workshops, semi-structured interviews, community meetings and fieldwork to better understand the extent of local knowledge of climate change. During the year-long initiative, the project team produced a broadcast-quality video and several scientific journal articles to communicate the negative consequences of climate change in the Arctic and to understand the adaptive strategies that local people are using in response. The science papers document Inuvialuit knowledge on climate change and explore how that knowledge can enrich scientific research in the Arctic. The video follows local people onto the land and sea as they perform traditional activities. Their voices - and the beauty of a fragile and bountiful land - leave viewers with a clear understanding of what will be lost if climate change continues.

Aerial ViewInuit are renowned for their ability to flourish in a harsh climate, to adapt as conditions change, to thrive where others cannot. Climate change poses a threat unlike any they have faced before. Their lifestyle and their culture may depend on their ability to adapt to this new challenge.

This project was made possible through the support and initiative of the community of Sachs Harbour and financial contributions from: the Climate Change Action Fund (Public Education and Outreach); the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation; the Climate Change Action Fund (Science, Impacts and Adaptation); Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; and the Government of the Northwest Territories. Generous in-kind support was given by the Hunters and Trappers Committee of Sachs Harbour; the Inuvialuit Game Council; the Inuvialuit Joint Secretariat; the Inuvialuit Communications Society; the Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba; the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; the Government of the Northwest Territories; and the Geological Survey of Canada.

© 2000 International Institute for Sustainable Development

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